Though we weren’t able to enjoy the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games this year, the pandemic can’t completely extinguish the Olympic flame.
As a substitute for watching live competition this summer, try these nine documentaries that capture the spirit of the Games:
This subtitled masterpiece on the 1964 Summer Games is shot with such elegance that you may think you’re spending a night at the ballet.
The Japanese narrator is clearly partisan, but saves some of his exuberance for visitors, most notably Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila.
‘The Boys of ’36’
Those who haven’t read “The Boys in the Boat” can at least get their feet wet with this abbreviated but riveting narration of the University of Washington’s shocking gold-medal win in Berlin.
The ragtag team of rowers will give you a new appreciation for their sport and underdogs of every nationality.
‘More Than Gold: Jesse Owens and the 1936 Berlin Olympics’
Morgan Freeman narrates this powerful look back at how a 22-year-old Cleveland wonder almost single-handedly spoiled Adolf Hitler’s party plans with a jaw-dropping performance on the track. The film doesn’t shy away from a sad epilogue that found the once-conquering hero relegated to running against race horses for money.
‘Nadia Comaneci and the Dictator’
The Romanian gymnast took home three gold medals in 1976, but this film is more interested in what happened after the 14-year-old made history. In her own words, the athlete looks back at her struggle to keep her chin up in the shadow of her country’s jealous leader, Nicolae Ceausescu.
‘I Am Bolt’
This Usain Bolt bio works as a great companion piece to “The Last Dance.” The filmmakers not only capture the Jamaican legend’s speed, but also his inner battle between making history at the 2016 Games and his desire to hang out on the beach.
‘Gold Medal Families’
This 2016 series, which originally ran on Lifetime, goes into the homes of six Olympic hopefuls as they compete for a chance to go to Rio. The parents are just as much part of this story as their kids, sacrificing and skimping from the sidelines.
‘16 Days of Glory’
Taking in all five hours of this 1984 Los Angeles Games retrospective may seem like a daunting marathon, but the filmmakers have chopped up the action into short, heart-racing chapters to be digested at your leisure. Re-watching Mary Lou Retton’s unexpected triumph will have you craving your Wheaties. HBO Max
The film features many highlights from the Mexico City Games, including the dramatic showdown between Czechoslovakia and Russia in women’s gymnastics, but it’s dominated by the Black Power protests and the image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their clenched fists in the air. Serena Williams narrates.
‘Anything Is Possible’
This new documentary doesn’t touch on Serge Ibaka’s performance at the 2012 Games that led Spain to a silver medal, but you see plenty of the Toronto Raptors’ Olympic spirit as he travels home to the Republic of Congo to share his NBA trophy with friends and family.