Off Road to Athens
THE HEROES: Eight U.S. mountain bikers who pedal passionately without whining about money or celebrity. THE HURDLE: Riders compete at venues around the world for a berth at the '04 Games, in Greece. THE TRAGEDY: Only three of the eight riders can make the cut. When USA Cycling mangles their scores, two female riders take the issue to court. WE GIVE IT: Bronze. Not terribly inspiring, but shines a useful light on USA Cycling's poor planning.
One Day in September
THE HEROES: 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who die at the 1972 Games, in Munich. THE HURDLE: A lax approach to security leaves authorities unprepared for an Olympic Village attack by Palestinian terrorists. THE TRAGEDY: Officials squander numerous opportunities to intervene. WE GIVE IT: Gold. The first-ever interview with the only surviving terrorist is especially chilling.
THE HERO: Runner Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup). THE HURDLE: He's an amateur with uneven legs and a wind-resistant mustache who ignores his legendary coach, sprints ahead of the pack, and still believes he can win the 5,000 meters in 1972. THE TRAGEDY: Pre takes fourth at Munich, then dies in a car accident three years later, at 24. WE GIVE IT: Silver. Crudup's a more convincing Pre than Jared Leto is in '97's Prefontaine.
THE HERO: Fictional gymnast Steve Tevere (played by 1984 gold medalist Mitch Gaylord). THE HURDLE: Troubled, chiseled Steve has an abusive father who wants his son to tinker with motorcycles, not tights. THE TRIUMPH: Steve makes it to the Olympics, with help from hot training partner Julie (Janet Jones). Andsniff, sniffDad ultimately accepts him. WE GIVE IT: Tin. It's Flashdance on the uneven bars.
Chariots of Fire
THE HEROES: British sprinters Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross). THE HURDLE: Liddell, a Scottish missionary, won't run on Sundays; Abrahams, a Jew, runs, in part, to deflect prejudice. THE TRIUMPH: At the 1924 Paris Games, Abrahams wins gold in the 100 meters, and Liddell takes the 400. WE GIVE IT: Gold. You can mock the all-male slow-motion beach-training runs, but this one deserved its four Oscars.