Director: Daniel Gordon.
Contributors: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis, Calvin Smith, Linford Christie, Dennis Mitchell, Ray Stewart.
Running Time: 79 minutes.
Originally made as part of the fantastic ESPN 30 for 30 series, 9.79* tells the ego-driven, steroid-filled story of the 100m final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Featuring contributions from each of the eight participants, along with coaches and doctors, the film examines allegations, questions and most pertinently the relationship between favourites Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson.
Directed and co-written by sports-doc specialist Daniel Gordon, 9.79* is the perfect example of how to tell a story where little happens, with maximum drama. Using archive footage and talking heads, Gordon eeks every last drop out of his contributors, even those less forthcoming than the extrovert Carl Lewis. Along with the athletes, Gordon has access to most of the main medical professionals involved in the alleged steroid scandal, including Lewis’ coach whose admiration for Lewis borders on the obsessive, making him a wonderful interviewee.
Pleasingly, the 79 minutes are filled with much more than an argument for or against any of the participants, as Gordon gives each – notably Calvin Smith whose humble nature is juxtaposed next to most athletes on-screen – a focus and history. Most viewers will be aware of Johnson and Lewis’ rivalry, and given the result of the race, Gordon correctly brings this to the forefront with fascinating results.
9.79* is another in a long line of mesmerising ESPN films. The US channel’s ability to tell fascinating sport stories is without peer thanks to their reliance on genuine filmmakers to tell the tales. Those familiar with the scandal and subsequent fallout of 9.79* may not learn anything new, but to hear those involved tell their side is compulsive, whilst the uneducated will find much of what they see unbelievable and will have much to talk about come the conclusion. Dramatic and thrilling, 9.79* is fantastic from starter-pistol to finish-line and, like the race at the time, is simply unmissable.