Made for ESPN’s ‘30 for 30’ strand in the US, this is a functional documentary about the controversial men’s 100m final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It’s a moderately interesting tale, focusing on the rivalry between Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson, and on the doping scandal that saw Johnson stripped of his gold medal. Director Daniel Gordon has done his groundwork and every one of the key players is interviewed, including our own Linford Christie, whose bronze medal was upgraded to a silver.
But the film’s TV roots are too obvious: it’s essentially a parade of talking-head interviews and fairly standard archive footage, with little effort made to place these events within the wider context of sports doping. The best sporting docs are those that take the time to persuade viewers with no vested interest in athletics to care about the characters and their story. But ‘9.79’ (named for Johnson’s ‘winning’ time) isn’t willing to run that extra mile.