In acknowledgement of the 2020 Olympics, which would have kicked off in Tokyo last week, the Criterion Collection is streaming its monumental collection 100 Years of Olympic Films on their streaming platform, the Criterion Channel. The collection includes 53 films and covers 41 editions of the Olympic Games, from Stockholm in 1912 to London in 2012. Every weekday for two weeks, I'll highlight a different moment and film from the last century of Olympic films.
The 1992 Summer Olympics happened in Barcelona at the beginning of a new world order. It was the first Summer Olympics after the end of the Cold War. Because of this, the Games featured fewer boycotts and sought to represent the beginning of a new unity. Many Soviet republics came together to form the Unified Team, which included 12 of the 15 former republics. The super team ended up earning the most gold medals at that Olympics.
But the victory that most stands out to me from this Olympic Games—captured in prolific Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura's documentary on the Barcelona Games, Marathon—is the victory of the US athletes in the finals for the Women's 4 x 100 m relay:
I talked about how much I love victory moments in my post on the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and Bob Beamon's big fucking jump, but this Olympic Games also features one of my favorite victory laps. It happens when Evelyn Ashford, Esther Jones, Carlette Guidry, and Gwen Torrence win gold in the 4 x 100 m relay. I swear the women run so fast their face cheeks flap.
But the real sweet stuff happens in Saura's documentary when he juxtaposes the winning US team against shots of the Nigerian team, who wait to see if they placed fourth or third.
In the scene, the women intensely stare at the board. They breathe heavily, almost hissing, while the US team leaps in celebration. And then, when the Nigerian team realizes they're third, they freak out. Jumping. Screaming.
Watching these two teams celebrate side-by-side—bronze and gold—is pure joy.
Now to Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé's "Barcelona," which comes from the duo's big gay album of the same name.
Mercury had long loved opera, and in the last stage of his career he created an album, Barcelona, with operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé. The album is riotous and epic and backed by an orchestra. It's also a child of the Olympics.
When it was announced that Barcelona would host the Olympics in '92, Caballé was asked to produce an official song for the games. Mercury and Caballé had met briefly in Barcelona in 1987, after Mercury had said on TV that he was a fan of Caballé, and Caballé invited Mercury to join her for the song. This song ended up evolving into an album.
Sadly, Mercury died from AIDS complications before performing the number at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. However, his last public performance was performing this song with Caballé on October 8, 1988, in Barcelona. The Barcelona album would come out two days later. It feels right that Mercury's final act is Olympic.
Watch the epic Barcelona opening ceremony, with Mercury's and Caballé's song, in Saura's Marathon, available now on The Criterion Channel: