Historic Czech triumph inspires new documentary
The inspiring tale of the Czech triumph in Nagano drops the puck for a new series of Olympic documentaries. 'The Nagano Tapes' premieres on 28 February.
Nagano 1998. One of the great underdog stories as an unheralded Czech team downed the star-studded NHL-heavy rosters of Canada, Russia and the USA.
It’s the kind of story that resonates through sporting history and 20 years on, it’s been picked out as the starting point for a new series of documentaries, Five Rings Films, specially produced for the Olympic Channel. Click here for the Nagano Tapes trailer.
As the Czech class of 2018 – with Nagano goal medallists Jaroslav Spacek and Milan Hnilicka on the coaching staff – gears up for another tilt at glory in Thursday’s semi-final against the Olympic Athletes from Russia, 'The Nagano Tapes' takes an in-depth look at how Jagr, Hasek & Co stunned the hockey world.
Part of the concept behind Five Rings Films is finding directors who have a personal connection with the story. For ‘The Nagano Tapes’, Ondrej Hudecek is revelling in telling a tale he remembers vividly from his own childhood.
“It meant a lot for the whole country,” he said. “There were so many different aspects to it. From a sporting point of view, it was the first time we had the NHL players. We remembered the World Cup in 1996, which was a disaster for the Czechs and nobody really expected anything from us in Nagano.
“Then there was the political aspect. The players themselves were too young in the Communist regime, even though they grew up under it. But for the older generation it had a totally different meaning as they remembered Communism and the Soviet invasion. It means something different for different people, but it certainly means something for everybody.”
Producer Frank Marshall, whose credits include five Oscar nominations and a host of blockbuster movies with Steven Spielberg, was working in Nagano to produce the first (and so far only) IMAX film of an Olympic Games. He jumped at the chance to work on a project that offered him access to the vast Olympic archive, and had little doubt that the Czech triumph was the perfect starting point.
“We tried to find a story that resonates,” he said. “It’s not just a compilation of sporting highlights, it’s a powerful story that can take us a bit beyond sport.
“That’s what I love about documentary. You can tell stories that, on the fiction side, you would say could never happen. That’s what so valuable about documentaries.”
To tell the story, Hudecek had 30 interviews and more than 600 hours of archive footage to edit down into a 70-minute documentary. And it’s not just a feast of Czech nostalgia – interviewees include Theo Fleury, Eric Lindros and Canadian coach Marc Crawford, a typically forthright contribution from the USA’s Brett Hull and the thoughts of Russia’s Alexei Yashin, as well as the stars of the Czech team, Dominik Hasek, Jaromir Jagr and Petr Svoboda.
And again, the context goes beyond sport. “We have a section with Jaromir Jagr where he talks about why he wears the number 68, and what it meant to him during the game against Russia,” Hudecek added.
With the Czechs in medal contention again in PyeongChang, 20 years on from Nagano, Hudecek is hoping for a repeat. But he admits it could never have quite the same impact as the events in Japan.
“I honestly think it’s really hard to imagine something the same as Nagano,” he said. “The context is completely different now. But it’s 20 years on, and we would love it to happen again. It might be a small Nagano if we get to the final here.”
‘The Nagano Tapes’, the first film in the Olympic Channel’s signature series, Five Rings Films, premieres worldwide on 28 February on the Olympic Channel at www.olympicchannel.com and its mobile apps. In addition, there are telecasts scheduled on NBCSN in the United States, Eurosport in Europe and beIN sports in the Middle East.