Hidden gems in the world of sport documentaries

With Netflix’s The Last Dance streaming to mass popularity on its platform (no pun intended), I decided to do a spot of digging to see what other great sports documentaries that I could find that haven’t garnered favorable attention.

Documentaries in general are just fascinating, a well-made, well documented story or piece of history makes for a great watch and in the case of the documentation of great moments in sports history some films can make for a great source of motivation and inspiration.

After a brief search I’ve come up with a couple movies that I personally believe are a thrilling watch with exceptional stories that are motivational, inspirational and informational in the best way.

The Dawn Wall (2017)

A story of true friendship and a pure heart, the film follows world class free climber Tommy Caldwell and professional boulderer Kevin Jorgeson’s 2015 ascent of The Dawn Wall on the great granite rock surface in Yosemite Valley, California which is El Capitan. Caldwell is setup from the story’s inception as the protagonist, his journey to his greatest accomplishment is so very well presented, your heart truly goes out to him. Without giving too much away, Jorgeson’s greatest challenge impressively makes you feel like you’re right up there with them, teetering on the edge. At the end of it all you will find yourself cheering for both climbers as they summit El Cap, a challenge which lasted an impressive 19 days.

Free Solo (2017)

Another documentary that had to be included was the attempt by who I would argue to be the world’s greatest free climber, Alex Honnold as he attempts the El Cap without the guaranteed safety of a harness or ropes. It is honestly a thriller as you watch Honnold make his way up the 3000-foot-tall monolith in one single push, summiting El Cap in 4 hours. It’ll hold you in suspense as you witness Honnold climb without a rope through awkward and difficult positions on minuscule holds in which one wrong move would mean death. Being a NatGeo documentary the film is available on Disney+ for your viewing pleasure and is definitely worth the watch.

Breaking 2 (2017)

Another impressive sports documentary by NatGeo is the story of world champion marathon runner, Eliud Kipchoge. The story follows his attempt at breaking the perceived limit of 2 hours to run a marathon. Many believed that the distance of 26.2 miles could not covered within the time, but Kipchoge’s story is that of pure determination and never give up attitude and is bound to at least make you want to get out of the house and go for a run. It’s superhuman attempt, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you by giving away too much.

Uppity: The Willy T Ribbs Story (2020)

In light of the recent events that have unfolded in the USA, this motorsports gem tucked away on Netflix will leave you feeling inspired. Willy T Ribbs was the first African American to race in the Indianapolis 500 and was a multiple race winner in the hugely competitive Trans-Am series, a sport which at the time was dominated by a majority racist crowd. The documentary encapsulated Ribbs’s strong personality as he battled against prejudice as much as his on-track rivals, to the extent that on his first unsuccessful visit to the Indy 500, he had a crew chief who would not actually talk to him running his car. It’s truly a hidden gem and serves a strong message to everyone out there that determination and strength comes from within.

TT: Closer to the Edge (2011)

My final pick for the true fly-on-the-wall sports documentaries goes to this film. The story details the Isle of Man TT motorcycle race, the world’s most dangerous motorsport event ever to run. It follows the leading riders for the 2010 spectacle, mainly Ian Hutchinson and Guy Martin, two flamboyant characters and certifiably mad. The film does a stunning job of making the viewers experience the sheer speed that the riders get up to and the danger involved in the TT. If you’re a thrill seeker and an adrenaline junkie, this documentary is most certainly for you. Fortunately, the film is still available on You Tube, so give it a shout and happy watching.

Picture courtesy of National Geographic

By Randev Jayasinha

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