Filmmaker John L. McLeod Looking to Go ‘Beyond’ in Telling Olympic Stories

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Steve Genter, from "Conviction: The Steve Genter Story"; Photo Courtesy: Beyond Bronze, Silver and Gold

Filmmaker John L. McLeod Looking to Go ‘Beyond’ in Telling Olympic Stories

As a kid, John L. McLeod was entranced by the Olympics. Watching Bud Greenspan’s features of the Games, there was a mystique in the Olympics of the post-World War II era that McLeod, growing up in Canada, was drawn into.

It was enough to pull him into sports, to eventually inspire him to earn a place at the 1976 Montreal Olympics as a member of the Canadian water polo squad. But the memories that lasted most profoundly, and the ones he would think of long after his athletic career ended, were always mediated by the camera lens.

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From “Conviction: The Steve Genter Story”; Photo Courtesy: Beyond Bronze, Silver and Gold

“As a kid, watching the Mexico City Olympics and seeing Bob Beamon make that 29-plus-foot jump and sort of pop up and skip around and then the next shot, he’s on his knees with his head in his hands and he’s being helped up by teammates because he’s so overcome with emotion,” McLeod said recently. “That is just drilled in my brain.”

It informs the filmmaker’s latest project, a documentary series called “Beyond Bronze, Silver and Gold,” which McLeod hopes to showcase a new generation of stories like the ones that once held him so in thrall.

McLeod, who is looking for distribution for his short films, already has the first two mostly completed, both of which take place in the pool. The first, “Conviction: The Steve Genter Story,” showcases the journey of American Olympic swimmer Steve Genter. Now 70, Genter was viewed as a favorite in the mid-distance freestyle at the 1972 Olympics until he suffered a collapsed lung several days before competition in Germany.

Genter would battle through, against doctors’ orders, and win three medals at a Munich Games best known for Mark Spitz’s seven-gold-medal triumph in the pool.

“Conviction” has won several film festival awards and was entered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2020.

The second feature draws on a teammate of McLeod’s, Canadian water polo player Gabor Csepregi. “The Swim – The Gabor Csepregi Story” tells the story of the Hungary native’s escape from behind the Iron Curtain and his life as a sports and academic success in the West.

McLeod’s goal is to showcase lesser-known stories in the Olympic canon, ones that only may be known to a niche audience or that are great stories that fall outside the quadrennial Olympic network features. His aim is to take it global, covering a wide swath of countries and sports, though he’s starting in his aquatic wheelhouse.

“Some are known, some are not well known,” McLeod said. “Some are maybe known within the country of that athletes, and I really want to make it a global project where it encompasses all countries and all sports.”

McLeod came to filmmaking after a successful business career. His history as an athlete offers him an entrée to stories that outsiders might not have, intimately knowing the territory and connecting on a level that non-athletes may not be able to, something he hopes to use to his advantage as he pursues further features in the series.

“There are a ton of stories out there, and I want to focus on these athletes that have great stories that NBC doesn’t have time to focus on,” McLeod said. “I get it: They want to go towards the medalists and that’s what drives sponsorship for the Games, and I get that and they do some great stories. But there are a ton of them out there from the history of the Games and I feel compelled to do it.”

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Paul Hardy

    I have known Gábor for more than 50 years and proud to call him my friend. He is an awesome individual and I believe many people would be inspired by his incredible journey. Kudos to Mr McLeod for making movies about lesser known super achievers. I’m really looking forward to seeing this movie!