There’ll be no dark corners in which to hide from the Olympics this summer – and that includes cinemas. A crowd of sports-themed films are loitering knock-kneed at the starting line. First off the mark is this somewhat over-serious doc following a handful of London sprinters hoping to be selected for Team GB. Director Sam Blair is clearly interested in the psychology of athletes, and he’s picked the right sport. Sprinting looks like a brutal business: runners pushing themselves to the limits of pain and endurance, day in day out, year in year out – only to win or lose by hundredths of a second.
Star of the doc is 29-year-old east Londoner Jeanette Kwakye. This woman is force of nature – the definition of positive mental attitude and very funny to boot (she describes her early years: ‘typical little Afro-Caribbean girl: big arse; bad technique. But I was quick’). She reached the women’s 100-metre final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but months later slipped during training. What seemed like a simple strain nearly put her out of the sport. Kwakye fought her way back. ‘Now a hamstring injury feels like a papercut,’ she says.
Blair’s quietly watchful camera captures some telling moments over four years’ filming. Sprinter James Ellington’s mum (Ellington is the runner who put himself on eBay last year to raise funds), admits that she used to wish he wasn’t quite so talented: ‘There’s so much to lose.’ Few make it. After one race, which Ellington wins, we get a glimpse in the faces of his team mates of how another athlete’s success might gnaw away at you. But there is too much slow-motion footage of sprinters’ faces mid-race, gripped by determination, and an artsy, swishy soundscape, which fails to capture the energy and drive of the runners.