Tokyo figures in a much better film, Running Brave (1983), about Billy Mills, the half-Sioux runner who won gold in the 10,000 meters in 1964. The Olympic final, a small war of elbows and multiple lead changes among Mills, Mohamed Gammoudi and Ron Clarke, is thrillingly reenacted. Afterward, when Pat Hingle, as the penitent college coach, tells Robby Benson, who plays Mills, "That was the greatest race I ever saw a man run," you'll agree: Yes, it was. And you'll almost forget that Hingle's autocratic butthead character had branded all Indians "quitters" and drunks.
Running Brave stands out in a group of relentlessly routine Olympic track movies that includes Jim Thorpe—All American (1951), in which former acrobat Burt Lancaster wins the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics, and Sweden's king tells him, "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world"; Babe (1975), in which Susan Clark as Babe Didrikson brings home 1932 Olympic javelin and hurdles gold (and an Emmy); and The Jesse Owens Story (1984), in which militant black athletes at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics tell Owens (Dorian Harewood), who had flirted with the Republicans, that they'll negotiate with anybody but him.
The heroes of Chariots of Fire (1981) are Scottish missionary Eric Liddell, the 1924 Olympic gold medalist at 400 meters, and Harold Abrahams, the 100-meter gold medalist. Chariots is stuffed with historical inaccuracies and omissions. Lord Lindsay, the bon-vivant hurdler played by Nigel Havers, is based on Lord Burghley, a gold medalist in 1928, but he's the film's saving grace. Track fans genuflect to Chariots; its theme music will blare at small-town road races well into the 21st century.
Robert Towne's far better Personal Best (1982) is believable from the instant that actress Patrice Donnelly, ecstatic about her shot put, hoists her coach, played by Scott Glenn, off the ground. Donnelly, who was an Olympic hurdler in 1976, is achingly raw as a lapsed heterosexual. She's smitten by a potent track prospect played by Mariel Hemingway, whom Donnelly tells, "You can be great.... Everything I've always wanted, you've got." The arm-wrestling match between these two women is more sexually charged than dozens of conjugal scenes in other movies. Towne overindulges his taste for shots of sleek athletic females—but that's not a problem if you happen to share his taste.
Glenn plays the unflappable father/ brother/suitor/jailer of his female charges with 156 shades of gruff. The shorthand for him is "manipulative," but he's far more complex than that. Glenn aptly describes the high jump as "a masochist's event. It always ends on failure."
As the amiably goofy water-polo player who admires Hemingway's bench pressing, Kenny Moore, a senior writer for this magazine, appears nude and is "the film's biggest surprise...a natural film personality," according to the Times's Canby. It's poignant when the courtly Moore thanks Hemingway "for making me feel like I'm not in a hurry." Whereupon she jumps his bones.