After film director Danny Boyle managed to wow the world with his ceremony, the Olympic Games of 2012 were officially opened. To get in the mood, or perhaps so you can have a five minute escape from the 24/7 BBC coverage, here’s our top 10 Olympic Documentaries.
1. Hoop Dreams (1994)
Two ordinary inner-city kids dare to dream the impossible and see their dreams come true in this beautiful chronicle of hope and faith. Filmed over a five-year period, Steve James’ film follows young Arthur Agee and William Gates as they navigate the complex, competitive world of scholastic athletics while striving to overcome the intense pressures of family life and the realities of their Chicago streets.
2. One Day in September (1999)
In this Oscar winning documentary Kevin MacDonald shows us how a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September managed to hold Israeli athletes hostage at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich. The film is mainly a chilling compilation of footage of the day itself and interviews with everyone involved (incl the remaining terrorist suspect) and is narrated by Michael Douglas.
3. Ping Pong (2011)
Amidst a moving and funny portrait of a group of ping pong-playing colourful elderly people, you will find that Ping Pong is an absolute cracking sports movie, rife with tension, drama and action.
4. Town of Runners (2011)
Documentaries are meant to capture reality and Town of Runners does just that. Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell follows the lives of two aspiring Olympians in Bekoji, rural Ethiopia, and the trials and tribulations that come with their training.
5. Warrior Champions: From Baghdad to Beijing (2009)
Directed by the renowned Renaud Brothers, this inspiring documentary tells the stories of four American soldiers who lost limbs or suffered paralysis during the war in Iraq and in 2008 found themselves on the road to the Summer Paralympics in Beijing.
6. China Heavyweight (2012)
In the South West of China, athletic coaches working for the state scour the poor countryside to recruit young teenagers who demonstrate a talent for boxing. The goal is to train them and turn them into Western-style boxing champions – a type of boxing that used to be forbidden in China for being too American. With the documentary the award-winning director Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze) shows us the other side of China’s sporting successes, one that is remarkably less glamorous.
7. Salute (2008)
Filmmaker Matt Norman sets out what the consequences were for his uncle, Australian athlete Peter Norman, when he won silver at the 200 metres at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 and took the stage as a proud winner. Without knowing it would, this victory made him an integral part of one of the most defining moments in the history of the Olympic Games and the struggle for equality.
It was the moment when, after winning gold and bronze, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, both proud African-American athletes, raised their fist in the famous ‘Black Power’ salute. Norman was standing alongside of them, showing his support by wearing a Human Rights button, a simple act for which he was punished in the worst possible way for an athlete; he was never to run for his country again.
8. The Other Dream Team (2012)
At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, few people realised that four out of five starters on the gold-winning Soviet Union basketball team weren’t Russian but Lithuanian, forced to play basketball for the regime that had terrorised their own people for decades. But revenge was sweet, only four years later the Lithuanians rose to beat Russia in the Barcelona Olympics, making the team symbols of democracy in their newly liberated.
9. Strong (2012)
Is there life after sports? Directed by filmmaker Julie Wyman the documentary Strong gets up close and personal with teenage Olympic weightlifter Cheryl Haworth as she gets to the end of her career as a professional athlete. With a medal-winning body like hers, will she be accepted into a society that has very strong views on what women should look like? Read a full review of the documentary by film critic Jennifer Merin of About Documentaries here.
10. When We Were Kings (1996)
A revealing portrait of the greatest boxer alive explores how Ali so unexpectedly triumphed over George Foreman in the fight now known as the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, one of the most remarkable fights ever which took place in Congo in 1974. The film features great talking heads and shows unseen sides of both athletes.
Now, don’t have a go at me, this list is purely a personal choice and if you think other docs should be included then drop me a line in the comment box below. Also, you might have noticed, not all these docs have a clear Olympic theme, however, they all cover Olympic sports, Olympic hopes and dreams, and Olympic events that we should never forget about.
Let the Games begin!