Chariots of Fire - DVD

May 23, 2004

The infant and I watched Chariots of Fire over the last couple of days. I had seen it twice before, once in the theaters and once on video.

I grabbed it from the library together with Caddyshack and Chinatown - I guess I was in a "C" mood. I watched it first because I am starting to run again, knees permitting, and because I ran sprints back in high school many moons ago.

I got curious this time and checked to see what liberties the movie made with the athletic careers of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell - they made a few, all to the point of emphasizing the dramatic impact. From what I could tell, the movie captured the personalities of the two men while altering the details of who ran what where, who learned what when, and so on.

Thus the movie presents Abrahams in 1920 just leaving the army, commenting to Montagu that he had "never lost" and then makes a big deal of the emotional trauma that Abrahams felt after losing to Liddel in a 100 meter sprint. The real Abrahams competed in the 1920 olympics and did so so - he made the finals in the 100 and 200, finished at the tail end of the pack. No runner wins every race, although Edwin Moses made a good try of it; there is always someone faster that day, someone with more wind that day, or someone who peaked for this race while you are using it to prepare for a later event.

Similarly, Eric Liddel, a natural 100 meter man, learned that the heats for the 100 were scheduled on a Sunday several months before the games. He changed events without any of the drama and confrontation that the movie uses, but the movie dramatics do a nice job of pointing up the symbolism and the importance of that symbolism; Sandy Koufax chose not to pitch the world series on Yom Kippur, and Eric Liddel dropped out of his best event rather than race on Sunday.

The movie made me cry, it usually does. For that matter, cheering a racer onward - even in a casual 5K - can make me cry. For some reason I find running to be the purest form of both athletic expression and athletic competition, and the drive of a runner to push past their limits is something impossible to see through a television camera, impossible to miss in person.

Posted by Red Ted at May 23, 2004 10:09 AM
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