More than the competition: top sport documentaries

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July 15, 2014 by John Buckley

Sport is so much more than the physical, at it’s core is the deeply emotional, the desire to win, to push oneself, to be creative, to become free. When you watch sport live, you don’t always capture the full story. You don’t get to see the years of hard work and graft, the recovery from injuries or the crippling self-doubt. They also may show you another side to people or explore sub plots of self-discovery, the uncovering of lies or challenging of stereotypes. Over the last few months I’ve been chatting to a few of my mates about sports documentaries and their impact on me and how they have managed to help me (someone who never played any sport until I was 25) to push my own boundaries.

Credit: Ultimate Direction

Credit: Ultimate Direction

So here are some of my favourites and must see documentaries. I’ve broken them down a bit into categories to make it easier to pick the ones you may like yourself:


“Déjame Vivir”

What can I say, Killian Jornet, the ultimate running machine. Killian is an athlete who runs for the absolute love of running. “Déjame Vivir” looks at his attempt to break the record for running the Matterhorn (4,478,m of mountain). The cinematography is unbelievable and will leave you in awe of his talent and the scenery.

“In the High Country”

Another of my favourite runners, Tony Krupica, takes you on a journey through minimalist running. A lot of my mates ask, “Why would I watch a film about running?” Well this is the film to change their minds. “In the High Country” brings you with Tony through training and races. Some of the shots are really smart and the soundtrack is class.


“The Armstrong Lie”

I was a big Armstrong advocate, up until very close to the Oprah interview.  I suppose I didn’t really know a lot about cycling.  What I knew was what I was presented with, and what I was presented with was the combination of a lie and a hero. The Armstrong Lie is a great watch and takes you into the mindset of a compulsive liar but also into the mind of a documentary maker who has been lied to.



There are a lot of super Irish surf shorts and documentaries, hard to pick one out, but Waveriders is what took a look at Ireland from an external point of view. The world class west coast breaks are captured beautifully with the smooth narrative tones of Cillian Murphy for company.

“Lakey Peterson – Zero to 100”

There’s some awesome stuff surfed on the Women’s World Championship Tour at the moment and it’s an example of close to equality of coverage between men and women’s sport. Lakey’s film, Zero to 100, charts the sport mad grom’s journey to the tour and shows off some awesome moves.


“The Summit”

I saw this film for the first time with my Dad at JDIFF two years ago. My Dad had brought me up in the hills of Wicklow, where we’d spend some really happy times. The Summit left us both in tears and questioning humanity. A beautiful film looking at the human condition in many ways, from the drive to reach the top compared with the desire to help and protect. One of the most moving pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen.

“Touching the Void”

Based on Joe Simpson’s book, touching the void is another film based on mountain tragedy and what people do in order to survive, but also the explores the psychological impact of decisions that are made in a matter of moments.


“Next Goal Wins”

A film full absolute characters (in the Irish sense of the word) follow the exploits of the American Samoan football team in their quest for honour, pride and ultimately putting the demons of a 31-0 defeat to bed. It’s a truly moving film of personal triumph and challenges a huge number of stereotypes within football.

Other Sports


One of the best sport docs out there, I won’t do Murderball justice in trying to analyse it, just watch and be prepared to be struck by every aspect of this film.

“The Crash Reel”

The story of Kevin Pearse that really resonated with me, isn’t so much about sport as it’s about what do we do when something that is our life and love is about to be taken away from us? Really awesome soundtrack too.

Irish Picks

“London Calling”

From filmmaker Darragh Bambrick, a series of films followed Irish athletes in the build up to London 2012, I’m not sure if it’s still available but it was a very intimate look at the journey to that ultimate athletics goal

“ROG – The Ronan O’Gara Documentary”

I had to put this is, those who know me know that I was never a ROG fan, but this film completely changed my mind about him. A really honest portrayal of a true Irish sporting hero.


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