Dubsism

What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions

Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 113: “Personal Best”

  • Today’s Movie: Personal Best
  • Year of Release: 1982
  • Stars: Mariel Hemingway, Scott Glenn, Patrice Donnelly
  • Director: Robert Towne

This movie is not on my list of essential films.

NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the The Olympic Dreams Blog-A-Thon being hosted by hosted by 18 Cinema Lane. This is the fourth event involving her in which I’ve participated, and conveniently enough, this is also the fourth movie I’ve done which features Scott Glenn. The late Roger Ebert once said that it was hard to make a bad movie with M. Emmet Walsh or Harry Dean Stanton in it. I think Scott Glenn belongs in that same category as I’ve portrayed with this film, The Right Stuff, and The Hunt For Red October…although Urban Cowboy is the exception which proves the rule.

You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:

The Story:

Personal Best is a tale revolving around two female athletes competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the run-up to th 1976 Summer Games In Montreal. The first is hurdler Chris Cahill (played by Mariel Hemingway); the other is pentathlete Tory Skinner (played by Patrice Donnelly). After losing in the hurdles event, Chris is consoled by her coach Rick Cahill (played by Larry Pennell), who is also her father.

On the other side of the “agony of defeat” is the “thrill of victory,” which is being enjoyed by Tory, her friend Roscoe Travis (played by Jim Moody) and a cast of others at local restaurant. By finishing second in the pentathlon, Tory has qualified for the 1976 Summer Games, thus the celebration. Rick and Chris are also in the restaurant, and as Rick is congratulating Tory, Chris tells him she wants to stay at the celebration and she will walk home later.

Not much later, Chris suffers a fainting spell during which Roscoe and Tory come to her aid. Tory gives Chris a ride home, but after Chris breaks down while congratulating Tory, they instead end up at Tory’s place where the first of several romantic entanglements as interconnected as the Olympic rings themselves occurs.

A few days later, Chris accompanies Tory to California Polytechnic State University where she has a scholarship. Tory tries to convince her coach Terry Tingloff (played by Scott Glenn) to take her on. Tingloff isn’t having it, but he does allow Chris to workout with the team. Upon returning home, Chris ask her father/coach for permission to Cal Poly; he isn’t exactly thrilled when he discovered she has not been offered a scholarship. Later, Tory bullies Coach Tingloff into letting Chris run a race during practice, and despite the fact she fell off her blocks at the start, Chris still finished third.

Chris and Tory

The story long-jumps to the World Student Games in Cali, Colombia in 1978. Immediately preceding the games, Chris contracts a case of food poisoning. Another resident of the dorms for the games happens to be a medical student who gives Chris opium. In an exercise designed to show the growth of their relationship, Tory stays up all night tending to the ill Chris.

As a result, Tory is exhausted the next day and performs poorly, after which she gets chewed out by Coach Tingloff. However, the recovered Chris excels in the hurdles…which serves as the catalyst for tension between Tory and Chris. That tension becomes straight-up jealousy when during a post-competition party Tory spots Chris flirting with a male athlete.

The “green-eyed monster” only grows when they get back to Cal Poly. Coach Tingloff happens upon Chris while she’s stretching. She develops a cramp during her exercises, and Coach Tingloff tends to her. It is in this moment he offers her a scholarship on the condition she switches to the pentathlon and works with him over the summer. Since Tory is also a pentathlete, Chris is reticent to make the move as she does not want to compete with her. Eventually, she agrees to Tingloff’s terms. As Chris and Tingloff begin her training, it’s clear a relationship is developing…and Tory can see it.

Coach Tingloff

One day, Tingloff enters the weight room to find Tory coaching Chris. Immediately suspicious, Tingloff privately warns Chris of the possibility that Tory is sabotaging her. For the viewer, that suspicion only builds while Chris is practicing the high jump in advance of the Pan American Games when Tory offers her advice concerning her approach to the bar. Chris doesn’t want to depart from Tingloff’s coaching, but she takes Tory’s advice.

As a result, she suffers a knee injury. When Tingloff hears about this, he immediately blames Tory, which causes Chris to become distrustful of her as well. Another turn comes about as Tingloff takes Chris into his home ostensibly for purposes of aiding in recovery from the knee injury. However, a hint of his true intention comes one day when the phone rings. As Chris tries to answer it, Tingloff throws the phone across the room as he believes the call is coming from Tory. He then accuses Chris of only caring about her “girlfriend” Tory. After this, Tingloff kisses Chris, but she is clearly put off by his outburst.

The next day, Chris meets Tory outside the apartment they’ve been sharing; Chris promises to move out before Tory returns from the Pan American Games. As that affair is ending, another begins to blossom. Now that Chris has taken up swimming for the rehabilitation of her injured knee, she encounters a water polo player named Denny Stites (played Kenny Moore).

Now that things between Chris and Tory have soured, Tingloff tells Chris he would rather she not be on the field when Troy is also there. Angered by this, Chris tells Tingloff that she either practices with the whole team or not at all. As she’s leaving, she passes a water polo match; she stops to watch Denny play. His team wins; Chris congratulates him and they end up sharing a lunch date. During the over-meal conversation, Chris discovers Denny has won an Olympic gold medal in swimming. Curiosity takes over, but while Chris is questioning Denny about that winning experience, he spots Tory at another table, and deduces there’s more between her and Chris than the track team. Chris only admits to being Tory’s roommate for three years, but later Denny finds a book Tory had given to Chris. This is when Denny reveals to Chris his knowledge of her relationship with Tory…more importantly, Denny tells Chris her having been romantically involved with a woman changes nothing between them.

In case you had any doubt that sex was used to sell this movie…

Now there’s another jump, this time to 1980. The setting is another Olympic trial; however this time the stakes have been raised because the United States has already announced they will boycott that years’ Summer Games in Moscow due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. That means for the athletes at this trial, this is it…there won’t be any Olympic glory, so winning the trials means all that much more. That gets ratcheted up even more between Chris and Tory, who are now competing head-to-head in the pentathlon.

On day one of the trial, Tory finishes second in the hurdle event, but but still bests Chris by a distance, who loses points for hitting one of the hurdles. Next comes the shot put, where Chris commits a foul, which puts her even further behind in the overall competition Denny tries to encourage Chris from the stands, exhorting her to believe she is not out of the competition. Taking his words to heart, Chris sets a personal best on the high jump.

As they are prone to do in the Pacific Northwest, the rains come, which delays the long jump. Despite the fact this is Tory’s best event, the wet track causes her to injure her knee. In the medical tent, Chris learns Tory’s injury is not as bad as first thought, so she encourages Tory to run in the 800-meter race, the pentathlon’s final event.

Entering this last event, Chris is in second place and Tory in fourth in the overall pentathlon standings. In the 800-meter run, Chris sets the pace for most of the race, but Tory turns on her kick to beat Chris to the finish line. Chris crosses the line, and as she runs into Tory’s arms, the announcement is made they have both made the United States Olympic team…even though they won’t be going due to the boycott.

The Hidden Sports Analogy:

The long and short of it; Personal Best is about the Olympics and screwing. Well, there’s no better case of Olympic screwing than what was done to the United States’ Men’s Basketball team at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, West Germany (American boxer Roy Jones, Jr. in 1988 is a close second, but that’s for another day…)

From the end of the Second World War until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “Cold War” between the United States and the Soviet Union often manifested itself in the Olympic Games. The 1972 Olympic men’s basketball final rivals the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” as one of the most dramatic events in Olympic history, although it had quite a different ending for the Americans.

But whether it was 1980 in Lake Placid or 1972 in the very same Germany now divided in part by the Berlin Wall, both events fell in the shadow of the “Cold War.” As such, the 1972 basketball contest between the United States and the Soviet Union was framed in only the most solid frame of anti-realpolitik.

Baseball may be “America’s Pastime,” but basketball is the sport whose origins are purely American. As such, basketball is in terms of international competition truly “America’s Game.” That’s why the U.S. team was a heavy favorite coming into the Summer Games in Munich. Not only had the the Americans won every gold medal since the sport became an Olympic event in 1936, they had never lost a single game in Olympic play since that summer 36 years prior in pre-war Berlin.

The 1972 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball team

On the court, the Americans dominance of the hardwood continued; they entered the gold medal match with an overall 63-0 record throughout their entire history in Olympic play. Meanwhile, the Soviets advanced to the final meeting with the Americans on the strength of an undefeated record through the ’72 Games.

Off the court however, there was a great deal of political intrigue. This was less than 30 years since the end of the Second World War, and there were plenty of people in Germany were weren’t fond of America’s role in the fall of the Third Reich. Not to mention there were rampant rumors of widespread bribery by the Communist parties of both East Germany and the Soviet Union; the idea being the Communists wanted to win 50 gold medals to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Union.

Given all that, it should come as no surprise that the sporting rivalry between the two “superpowers” was at it’s peak. Not only did the Soviets want to win 50 golds, they especially coveted the one in basketball. Not only would besting the Americans make for a great bit of “Cold War” propaganda, it would be all the sweeter given the Soviets settling for the silver medal in 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964, as well as the bronze medal in 1968.

But it was more than politics which separated the Soviets and the Americans. At the time, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) strictly prohibited any involvement of professional athletes at the time. That meant the best American players were ineligible, since most of them were already playing in the American Basketball Association (ABA) or the National Basketball Association. As a result, the American team was comprised of college players.

In contrast, the Soviets circumvented this rule by classifying their athletes as members of the military or some other “state” worker. While this made them “amateurs” in the eyes of the IOC, everybody could see these were top-flight, paid professionals.

The 1972 U.S.S.R Men’s Basketball Team

Like the Americans, the Soviets advanced to the gold medal game without a loss. That set the stage for two undefeated teams set to meet for the last medal to be awarded in the 1972 Summer Games. On top of that, the Soviets were leading in the overall medal count, but they were one short of their stated goal of 50 golds.

The Soviets sprinted out to an early lead. Throughout the first half, the Soviets maintained a four-to-eight point advantage led by their star Sergei Belov. At halftime, the Soviets were up by a score of 26-21.

The intensity ratcheted up in the In the second half when a scuffle over a loose ball led to the ejection of American d Dwight Jones and Soviet Mikheil Korkia. Another soviet player, Ivan Dvorny, was also thrown out of the game for unsportsmanlike conduct. Immediately after this American Jim Brewer was forced from the game due to an injury suffered on a hard foul committed by Alexander Belov.

With ten minutes left in the game, the Soviets had a ten-point lead. However, a resurgent American team cut that lead to a single point with 38 seconds remaining. The Americans began to press, and led by Kevin Joyce were able to cut down Soviets’ lead to one with thirty eight seconds left.

With seven seconds left, American Doug Collins stole Alexander Belov’s cross-court pass at half-court. As Collins drove to the basket, he was knocked to the floor by Zurab Sakandelidze. Now at the three-second mark, Collins was at the free-throw line about take his second shot awarded from Sakandelidze’s foul when for a still unknown reason, the horn from the scorer’s table sounded.

The next three minutes will forever live in Olympic infamy.

Upon hearing the horn, head referee Renato Righetto turned his attention away from Collins’ free throw attempt, but failed to stop play. Collins never broke his shooting motion and continued with his second free throw, making it to give the Americans a 50–49 lead.

Here’s where the controversy breaks out on three plays to inbound the ball after Collins made his free throws. Pay close attention to the following accounts of those three plays. If you can make sense of them, give yourself a medal.

First In-Bounds Play

“Immediately following Collins’ second free throw, with the ball then being a “live” ball under the rules at the time, Soviet assistant coach Sergei Bashkin charged out of the team’s designated bench area to the scorer’s table. He asserted that head coach Vladimir Kondrashin had called for a time-out, which should have been awarded prior to the second free throw, but that it had not been granted to them. Since a time-out could not legally be called after the second free throw, however, the Soviet players had to immediately inbound the live ball without a pre-planned play for the final three seconds. Alzhan Zharmukhamedov inbounded the ball to Sergei Belov, who began to dribble up the sideline, but the disturbance at the scorer’s table led Righetto to stop play just as Belov approached mid-court. The game clock was stopped with one second remaining.

When play was stopped, the Soviets pressed their argument about the time-out, with Kondrashin and Bashkin claiming that it had been called as soon as Collins was fouled. By the rules at that time, a time-out could be requested either by informing the scorer’s table directly, or by pressing the button of an electronic signaling device, which in turn would illuminate a light bulb at the scorer’s table to alert the officials there of the coach’s desire for a time-out. According to Kondrashin, he requested his time-out by pressing the button. Also by the rules at the time, upon calling a time-out prior to free throws, the coach was allowed to choose to have it awarded either before the first free throw or between the two free throws; he said he had chosen to take it between the two free throws. The game’s referees, however, were not informed of a Soviet time-out request prior to giving the ball to Collins for the second free throw.

With regard to the resulting questions of whether he had ever actually made a proper time-out signal, Kondrashin claimed to have later seen a film of the events that he said showed the light bulb illuminating, as well as an official at the scorer’s table nodding toward him in apparent recognition of the request.Regarding what happened next and his choice of when to take the requested time-out, Kondrashin said that the officials at the scorer’s table “wanted to give me the time-out before the first free throw; of course I refused.” However, Hans Tenschert, the game’s official scorekeeper, later blamed the Soviet coaches, claiming that they mishandled their signaling device and were therefore late in pressing it.

The unexplained horn that sounded as Collins was shooting the second free throw may have happened because the scorer’s table had recognized the Soviet time-out request at the last moment and was attempting to stop the second free throw to award it. Renato William Jones, the secretary general of FIBA at the time, later asserted that the problem had indeed been a human error at the scorer’s table which resulted in the time-out request being relayed too late to the on-court officials. Despite Kondrashin’s and Jones’ assurances, the Americans have expressed doubt that the time-out was really called. They have also argued that regardless of whether a time-out may have been missed, the ball became live upon Collins’ second free throw, and as such, a technical foul should have been assessed against the Soviets because their coach left the designated bench area during live play.

According to Righetto, after considering the Soviet arguments, the official decision was to deny the time-out. The protest later filed by the United States also mentioned that the game’s official score sheet included no indication of a time-out being granted in the last three seconds. Collins has also confirmed that officially, the time-out was not awarded, which meant that Collins’ second free throw counted and that neither team was to be allowed to substitute players when play resumed. Further indicators that no time-out was officially granted to the Soviets can be found in the existing television footage of the game, which includes shots of the scoreboard, both before the incident and at the game’s conclusion, with the scoreboard indicating each time that Soviets had one time-out remaining. During the period between the game’s interruption and resumption, the footage also does not include the sound of the scorer’s table horn that typically would be used to signal both the start and the end of an officially charged time-out. However, even without being granted an official time-out, the minute-long delay to restore order on the court and determine how to proceed still gave the Soviet coaches time to confer with their players and devise a planned inbounds play.

Furthermore, although Bashkin’s actions had caused the game to be stopped with one second remaining on the clock, the officials decided neither to resume play from that point, nor to assess a technical foul against him for having interrupted the play. They instead wiped out the play altogether, ruling that the entire inbounds sequence would be replayed from the point immediately following the second free throw and that the game clock would thus be reset to three seconds. Jones, who had had a contentious relationship with American basketball officials for a number of years, came down from the stands to the court to contribute to the officials’ ruling, and he insisted upon a complete replay of the final three seconds. According to Tenschert, Righetto had initially declared that play would resume with just one second remaining, only to be overruled by Jones.Jones later acknowledged that under the Olympic regulations, he had no authority to make rulings about a game in progress, though he maintained that resetting the clock was the correct course of action. Ed Steitz who, over the course of his basketball career, served both as the president of USA Basketball and as a member of FIBA’s Technical Committee, claimed that years after the game, Jones privately confided that with the clock reset still leaving only three seconds to play, he had not expected the Soviets would actually be able to score within that time.”

Second In-Bounds Play

“The players were brought back into position for a second inbounds play. However, instead of Zharmukhamedov returning to throw the inbounds pass, Kondrashin managed to substitute Ivan Edeshko into the game in Zharmukhamedov’s place. Kondrashin’s plan was to have Edeshko attempt a length-of-the-court pass to center Alexander Belov near the American basket, confident that Belov could catch any pass thrown accurately to him there and feeling that Edeshko was the player most skilled in executing such a pass. The two players had successfully run much the same play for CSKA Moscow team the preceding year to claim the Soviet Championship. Under the Olympic rules, substitutions were not to have been allowed without the granting of the time-out, but the referees resumed the game, failing to notice this issue and also not noticing that clock operator Andre Chopard was still working on getting the game clock set to three seconds. The ball was given to Edeshko to start play, with the scoreboard clock actually showing 50 seconds remaining.

Edeshko was defended at the end line by American center Tom McMillen. With his 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) frame, McMillen aggressively challenged Edeshko’s inbounds attempt, making it difficult for Edeshko to pass the ball into play. Edeshko ultimately made only a short pass to teammate Modestas Paulauskas standing in the Soviet backcourt. Paulauskas then immediately relayed a pass toward Belov at the other end of the court. But the horn sounded, with the pass barely out of Paulauskas’s hand. The pass then missed its mark and was uneventfully tipped off the backboard. The players, the announcers of both television broadcasts, and the majority of the spectators in the arena all interpreted the sound of the horn, combined with the sight of a failed Soviet pass, as the end of the game. People flooded the court and the U.S. team began a joyful celebration of its apparent one-point victory.”

IMPORTANT: Everybody thinks the United States has just won this game before this happens…

“With Jones still involved in the process, the officials once again ordered the court to be cleared, the players to be brought back into position, the clock to be reset, and the final three seconds be replayed. The public speaker announced, “Please go out. There are another three seconds left.” Furious over the decision to deny the U.S. victory and allow the Soviets yet a third inbounds play, the U.S. coaches briefly considered unilaterally declaring the game to be over by pulling their team off the floor. However, head coach “Hank” Iba was concerned that such an action would leave the U.S. vulnerable to a Soviet appeal, which might lead to a ruling that the U.S. had forfeited the game. U.S. assistant coach John Bach reported that Jones threatened him directly with such a forfeiture should the U.S. team not return to the floor. In finally deciding to comply with the officials, Iba reportedly told his coaching staff, “I don’t want to lose this game later tonight, sitting on my butt.”Some commentators suggest that their decision turned out to cost the Americans the game, and the gold medal, for the Americans were at the time in good terms with the international basketball federation, implying that walking off the court at this point would have guaranteed them the victory.”

Third In-Bounds Play

“On the third inbound try, McMillen was again assigned to use his height to challenge Edeshko’s inbound pass. However, as official Artenik Arabadjian prepared to put the ball into play, he gestured to McMillen. McMillen responded by backing several feet away from Edeshko, which gave Edeshko a clear view and unobstructed path to throw a long pass down the court. McMillen later said that Arabadjian had instructed him to back away from Edeshko. McMillen said that despite the fact that there was no rule which would require him to do so, he decided to comply, fearing that if he did not, Arabadjian might assess a technical foul against him. For his part, Arabadjian has denied that his gesture was intended to instruct McMillen to back away from Edeshko.

In any event, McMillen’s repositioning left no American defender to challenge Edeshko’s pass. Unlike the previous play, where he had been forced to make a short pass into the backcourt, Edeshko now had a clear line to throw the ball the length of the court toward Alexander Belov. Edeshko would later confirm that McMillen’s backing away made it easy for him to throw the long pass downcourt. In the Soviet Union, Edeshko’s throw would eventually come to be known as “the golden pass.”

The images of the play broadcast on American television by the ABC network have led to the question of whether Edeshko might have stepped on the end line—meaning that he should have been called for a violation—as he made his pass.

Belov’s “winning” shot

As Edeshko’s full-court pass came down, Belov, Kevin Joyce and Jim Forbes all leapt for the ball near the basket. Belov caught the ball in the air, and as the three men landed, Joyce’s momentum carried him out of bounds, while Forbes came down off-balance and fell to the floor beneath the basket. Belov then gathered himself and made an uncontested layup, scoring the winning points as the horn sounded for the last time. After jubilantly sprinting to the other end of the court, Belov was mobbed by his delirious teammates who dogpiled atop him in celebration. American coaches and players argued with the game officials for several minutes, but to no avail, as the Soviets were declared the victors.”

To this day, no members of the 1972 United States Men’s Olympic Basketball team have accepted their silver medals.

The Moral of the Story:

The Olympics always purport themselves to be above politics. Here’s two examples which prove that to be a gold-medal load of crap.


Check out Dubsism’s Movies and Blog-A-Thons page for a full schedule of projects past, present, and future!

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About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

3 comments on “Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 113: “Personal Best”

  1. 18cinemalane
    July 23, 2021

    Really good article! The story of the 1972 Men’s Basketball team sounds much more interesting than the entire plot of ‘Personal Best’. That is the kind of story that should be adapted into film. Thanks for joining my blogathon!

    Like

  2. Pingback: I Call Upon the Bloggers of the World for the Olympic Dreams Blogathon! – 18 Cinema Lane

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