Wednesday, October 17, 2012

ESPN 30 for 30 Vol II - 9.79*

I finished watching 9.79*. This is the second installment of ESPN's 30 for 30 Vol II. An episode guide for Vol II is here. 9.79* was produced by Daniel Gordon.

The focal point of the film is the 100 meter finals in the Seoul 1988 Olympics. It includes interviews with all eight of the runners in the race, including: Ben Johnson; Carl Lewis; Linford Christie; Calvin Smith; Dennis Mitchell; Robson da Silva; Desai Williams, and; Ray Stewart. It is the first time that all eight men who ran that race tell their story.

As a build-up to the race, it traces the careers of Lewis and Johnson from the 1984 Olympics until the race in Seoul. Lewis won four gold medals in the 1984 games. In 1986 and 1987, Ben Johnson consistently beat Lewis in the 100 meters. Lewis then beat Johnson in a key pre-Olympic race in 1988 setting up a dramatic Olympic rematch.

Johnson won the race in the 1988 Olympics, but while the games were still in progress he tested positive for steroids and was stripped of the gold medal. Although some still deny any wrongdoing, six of the eight finalists in the 1988 race have been implicated for drugs over the years following the race.

There is an interesting twist in the last part of the documentary. I am not going to spoil it.

I enjoyed the film more than I expected to. I watched it in three pieces over a couple of nights. I would like to go back and watch it from beginning straight through again. I can remember being in Boca Raton with Randy Wong and watching the 1988 Olympics in the hotel.

With all of the recent press about Lance Armstrong and the 50 game suspension of the Giant's Melky Cabrera, it clear that drugs have continued to play a role in professional sports over the last twenty five years. In fact, I am not sure that much has changed. I just think that they have gotten more sophisticated about it. I am also not as indignant as some people about the use of drugs in sports. Given the amount of money involved, the athletes are under enormous pressure to perform and recover from injuries.

Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell talked about the film in a podcast.

A trailer for the film is here.

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