Winning is, quite simply, about the winning spirit. And it could not have come at a better time, as the US Open edges dramatically towards its finish.
Edwin Moses Olympic Trials, 1988 (Photo: GaryDobbs)
This film focuses on five extraordinary athletes: tennis champion, Martina Navratilova; golf great, Jack Nicklaus; Olympic gymnast, Nadia Comaneci; track and field star, Edwin Moses; and Dutch Paralympian, Esther Vergeer. It recounts their remarkable careers and accomplishments in a combination of rare archival footage of their early years, stills, competition video, animation, and intimate on-camera interviews with the athletes themselves, their families, friends, and coaches. It focuses on what it took to shape them and make them great. Along the way, it also reveals their dreams, challenges, triumphs and losses.
At this level of the game, innate talent is simply not enough. Success is a combination of preparation, hard work, and mental focus. And this idea is wonderfully brought to life in the 75-minute film. In one segment, we hear how Edwin Moses viewed the 400-meter hurdles as an art form; and then how he broke it down into the math of the race. If he could take two fewer steps than his opponents during the race, he could win … and win he did in 122 straight races over a ten-year period.
But at one time or another, all of these athletes have also dealt with adversity. For Esther, the challenge was overcoming a surgery that left her disabled from the age of eight. Martina left her homeland and family at an early age. For others, time and age has been the adversary. In 1976, at the Montreal Olympics, Nadia was a lithe 14-year old. She scored the first “10” ever awarded in competition (the first of seven she won there). In 1980, she won two more gold medals and one silver. But by the age of 22, she had retired. Nay-sayers said Nicklaus could never win the Masters at the age of 46, but he did, becoming the oldest Masters winner in history, a record which still stands.
Jack Nicklaus, 1972 British Open
Oddly enough, winning was not all these athletes set out to do. Winning was actually the bi-product. Martina said she was always competitive with herself, even timing herself as she rode her bike around the family garden. With tennis, it was the ability to play with joy, with passion, and with risk-taking that drove her. Jack Nicklaus loved the pressure and the knowledge that everyone has his or her strengths. For Nadia, it was all about the possibility of doing something great. As she put it, “It’s not complicated. I love the process.”
Writer, producer and director Jacqueline Joseph called sports a metaphor for life. Not all of us can be Olympic athletes, but every one of us can learn from them … about determination, commitment, and a “never say die” attitude.
Top photo: Martina Navratilova