9.79_Race shot

What’s it about? The 100m men’s final in the 1988 Seoul Olympics was, as is now tradition, an event that captivated the world’s attention. Eight men had trained their whole lives to run as fast as they could over a distance of 100 metres and realise their dream of winning a gold medal, with all the glory and riches it brings.

That year, a quiet Jamaican-born Canadian, Ben Johnson, beat his rival, US track-and-field superstar Carl Lewis, while also setting a new world record of 9.79 seconds. However, the world’s plaudits for Johnson quickly turned to outrage when it was revealed that the fastest man in the world had tested positive for steroid use.

9.79_Daniel Gordon headshot25 years on, British documentary director Daniel Gordon (A State of Mind, 2004) interviews all eight men who participated in that Olympic final, along with some of their coaches and fellow athletes. The sporting rivalry between Lewis and Johnson is also considered in the film which attempts to move towards an openness in regards to the cloak-and-dagger world of steroid use in professional athletics.

Verdict: 9.79* does not break the mould in terms of presentation, with a simple format of medium and close-up shots of each athlete and coach answering questions about their participation in the race, their memories and attitudes towards their careers and the race itself.

What is of particular interest is that, after 25 years, there is still much intrigue regarding the issue of steroid use with truths or lies being openly or evasively hinted towards. The mentality of what it takes to be a professional athlete and what drives them is also discussed.

Gordon presents the consequences of the athletes either staying clean or taking drugs together with footage from races and interviews from the 1980s, while interviews given a quarter of a century later recount events as if they were just yesterday.

Final Words: The real strength of 9.79* is how it poses questions in the viewer’s mind while showing these eight men as human beings subject to very real human temptations.

Rating: 4 / 5      

Daniel Gordon’s documentary 9.79* is out in cinemas and on DVD now.