30 For 30 & 9.79

Last night I watched 9.79, another in the series of ESPN’s highly regarded 30 For 30 sports documentary films.

9.79 is the tale of Ben Johnson’s mind-bending 100 meter race at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.  The title comes from his winning time, a feat that left Carl Lewis well behind him in second place.

Except, like Mark McGwire’s 70 home runs in 1998 and Barry Bonds’ 762 throughout his career, the accomplishment wasn’t real.  Johnson’s impossibly large shoulders, yellowed eyes, and nasty on-track demeanor were all indications that something else was at work.

So the movie tells the story of Johnson’s involvement in steroids, the positive test in Seoul, and what his life has been like since the IOC stripped him of the gold medal and awarded it to Lewis.

To his credit, Johnson doesn’t deny his steroid use in 9.79.  In many ways he comes across as more authentic than does Lewis — who in his great desire to be a beloved celebrity instead looks like someone trying way too hard.  Most of what he says and how he says it made me cringe in response — and that’s without watching him sing The Star Spangled Banner.

I’m sure this is the first film review & recommendation I’ve done on this blog. 

Given ESPN’s pattern, 9.79 will be all over its various platforms for the next several weeks.  Find out when and where.  It will be well worth your while.

Here’s the trailer: