7 Inspiring Sports Documentaries to Watch Before the 2021 Tokyo Olympics
The 2021 Tokyo Olympics will officially kick off on July 23 with what is sure to be a spectacular Opening Ceremony. Everything about the Olympic Games is inspiring, from that symbolic torch relay to the continuous displays of superhuman strength and ability. But there’s nothing more inspiring than the athletes themselves. With every Olympic event, we are introduced to outstanding contenders who rally entire nations together. With an average global viewership in the billions, the Olympic Games is quite possibly the most powerful unifying event in existence.
In anticipation for the Tokyo Olympics, we’ve rounded up seven inspiring sports stories to get you extra amped for the big event.
There are few films that make you believe with unequivocal conviction that nothing is impossible, and this is one of them. An awe-inspiring story of friendship and perseverance, the documentary follows four British women, nicknamed the “Coxless Crew,” as they set out to do the unthinkable: row 8,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean from California to Australia unsupported. Over the course of their nine-month journey, the women have to overcome unfathomable physical and mental challenges that threaten to break them. Think about that the next time you need motivation to work out.
The best sports stories are, at their core, human stories. A group of young swimmers from developing countries are given the opportunity to train for the Olympics in a state-of-the-art pool in Phuket, Thailand. Some of them have only ever trained in the ocean, some have never seen a pool of this size, and none of them have been coached by anyone like Coach Alvarado. So when they enter the sports center, they know they’ll be pushed further than they’ve ever been pushed. This documentary is an unexpected underdog story, because the underdogs are given extraordinary advantages. But in the end, external advantages only go so far; it’s what’s inside that creates champions.
Will they bring home their first trophy? “This Is Yarra” follows a high school basketball team, the Yarra Wild Beasts, as they prepare for the South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association Tournament. The documentary focuses on individual players, like team captain Riyadh Aden and the highly emotional Dut Dut, and reveals what basketball means to them, but it also depicts the entire team’s spirit and determination to win their first championship. And in the larger picture, the film makes it clear that basketball has made a life-changing impact on the youth of Australia’s South Sudanese community at large.
Dreamers gonna dream. After an injury that cost him his career, former Romanian soccer star Laurențiu Ginghină wants to overhaul the entire sport. He proposes rules that would make the game less violent, with even bigger hopes that it would make society more harmonious. But that’s not all. His plans for revolutionizing soccer would be ongoing — his new rules would leave room for the sport to continue evolving, from football 2.0 to football 2.1, to 2.9, to infinity. While his strategy might need some work, the documentary’s real focus is on Ginghină himself. Not your typical subject of a sports story, Ginghină is so captivating you’ll believe his vision by the end.
Tennis isn’t just for the elites. In these four short films that make up our “Racquet Shorts” collection, we meet people and communities not typically associated with the racket sports. Richard and Ann Northern are an old married couple who reminisce about the life they built together while running their former tennis club in Brooklyn. In Iowa, a father shares how his homemade tennis court has become a powerful outlet for healing. In East LA, the Maravilla handball courts hold almost a century of memories, created by the neighborhood’s Chicano community. And we meet a tennis instructor who’s struggling in her personal life, but transforms into a formidable athlete on the court.
Like a real-life “Sandlot” but set in the Caribbean, “Boys of Summer” investigates how a team from Curacao was able to send their underdog team to the Little League World Series seven years in a row. Every year, more than 2 million kids from 100 countries try to make it to the tournament, but not all will make the cut. So how does Team Curacao? Practice, determination, and unwavering faith. The documentary also offers a glimpse of what it’s like to live, and train, on the warm Caribbean island.
“Nice guys don’t win in this game,” says tennis legend John McEnroe. Judging by his tennis record and his on-court behavior, he might be right. “John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection” is an utterly raw profile of the man who became famous for his volleying skills and infamous for his angry outbursts and meltdowns. The documentary focuses solely on McEnroe’s historic French Open match in 1984, when he was the top tennis player in the world. The 16mm archival footage highlights McEnroe’s indisputable athletic prowess, but also packs in plenty of the temper tantrums that make him such a fascinating figure to observe.