David Moorcroft’s story might have been a proverbial David-and-Goliath one. Except that in his case he was the Goliath. In great form, he was the favourite to win the 5,000m race at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Just two years earlier, he had set the world record for the race in Oslo. He began the Olympics with a pelvic injury that was exacerbated during the heats and the semi-finals. By the finals, he was doubled over in pain, and even as runner after runner went past him, he did not give up. He came last and hobbled to the finish line.
The Olympics might be about gold and glory, but Olympism is about the resilience of the human spirit. That is why Moorcroft’s story, which was immortalised in Bud Greenspan’s film 16 Days of Glory (1985), finds a resonance 40 years later. 16 Days of Glory is one of the films being screened at ‘Olympics in Reel Life’—a festival of 33 Olympic films and 10 series that takes place in Mumbai from October 1 to 7 and in Delhi from October 7 to 14.
The films include Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad (1965), which the BBC called “the greatest film about sport ever made”; Castleton Knight’s The Glory of Sport (1948), the first official Olympic film to be shot in colour, also notable for the Indian hockey team’s first gold medal since independence; and Carlos Saura’s Marathon (1993), that beautifully explored the kaleidoscope of exhaustion, disappointment and celebration at the games.
Other than the films, the festival will have two other elements— ‘Olympism Made Visible’, or selected photographs from an Olympic Museum international photography project; and ‘Indians in Olympics’, featuring iconic photographs of Indian Olympians in action. The festival comes as a prelude to India hosting the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session for the first time in 40 years.
Anyone who says that the Olympics is all about the journey and not about the outcome probably knows little about the games. Because it is about a lifetime of preparation culminating in a few minutes on the field. Yet, it does not end there. As Moorcroft’s story illustrates, the games are as much about the bravery of the vanquished as it is about the triumph of the victors. Hundreds have raced to victory, but not many have hobbled to defeat. As a result, hundreds have achieved glory, but only a handful, greatness. After all, is not Achilles, that greatest of Greek warriors, known today less for the strength of his heroism than for the weakness of his heel?
Abhinav Bindra, Olympics shooting champion
The Olympics became a dream for me when I first held a rifle. The idea of representing my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage and competing against the best was an aspiration that fuelled my every move.
My favourite sports film is Chariots of Fire (1981). I watched it as a young boy, and it left a profound impact. The movie beautifully captures the essence of determination, rivalry and the spirit of the Olympics. It taught me that with passion and perseverance, any obstacle can be overcome.
To me, the spirit of the game signifies respect, integrity and sportsmanship. It is about giving your best, respecting your competitors, and understanding that while winning is the goal, how you play the game matters just as much.
Films and photo exhibitions have the power to inspire, motivate and educate. For budding Olympians, witnessing the stories of their predecessors can instil a sense of purpose, determination and resilience. It gives them a glimpse into the sacrifices made and the joys of achieving one’s dreams. Festivals like this one offer a chance to immerse oneself in diverse cultural experiences, which can provide a broader perspective, enriching [athletes’] personal and professional lives.
Aparna Popat, former badminton player
The Olympics did not have badminton as a sport until 1992. By then I was already winning tournaments. That is when playing in the Olympics became a possibility. But prior to that, it was more about watching the games. I loved sports and found it very beautiful to watch athletes competing, no matter what sport it was. The grace, the competitiveness, the technique, the strategies, the spirit—they were all so inspiring.
Just to qualify for the Olympics was a dream come true. The inspiration came from a movie I watched when I was around 10. [Nadia (1984)] was a film on Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to get a perfect 10 at the [Montreal] Olympics, and that really stayed in my mind for a very long time. They were screening it at the Excelsior theatre [in Mumbai] and my parents took me. They only showed it once on a Sunday. The two things that struck me about the film were the amount of hard work she put in to achieve what she did and her relationship with her coach—one of absolute trust. That was a little personal, because I shared a similar, nurturing relationship with my coach. I had not known how to play badminton at all when I went to him, and he taught me the nuances of the game. I remember the trust and the care. When you are young, this is very important—the inspiration your coaches can give you, the stories they tell you.
There is this one scene when Nadia and her friend are sitting on the mat after practice and the lights are off, and she asks her friend, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The friend says she wants to get married to the most handsome man in the world. And she asks the question back to Nadia, who says, “I want to be the tallest tree in the world.” Just that aspiration of being somebody who is exceptional was inspiring.
There is another scene in the film where Nadia cannot get a sequence right. She is tired and her coach tells her it is enough, they will try again the next day. But she says no, she will practise until she perfects it. This really impacted the way I train, because I felt if she did not give up, I would not either.