Film Review: Winning

Enjoyable sports doc featuring profiles of and interviews with five acclaimed major winners in their varied disciplines should prove a winner among sports fans and all those who value excellence and achievement.
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With Winning, debuting writer/director/editor/producer Jacqueline Joseph delivers a down-to-earth look at some out-of-this world sports champs, namely multiple Olympic Gold Medal gymnast Nadia Comaneci (she was only 14 when, at the Olympics, her perfect ten score broke the computer), track-and-field Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses, tennis legend Martina Navratilova, golf icon Jack Nicklaus, and the lesser known but equally impressive Dutch Paralympian tennis champ Esther Vergeer. Also lending their presence and valuable insights into these high achievers are several former players, sports-psychology academics, coaches and family members.

The subjects, however driven when they competed and achieved their triumphs in years past, are today generous and forthcoming in sharing what they believe it took to reach their pinnacles. No surprise that they had significant help, but a primary resource was their will to win and passion to get better.

For Comaneci, “it’s all a winning thing.” But other factors come into play, including, say the various subjects, focusing not on the competition but one’s strengths and the potential to be great and exploiting the “drive to be the best.” For champion Edwin Moses, it’s a belief in hard work and not always a matter of your parents’ professions. (His did their “hard work” in academia). But for him, and for Vergeer, who has been paralyzed from the waist since she was eight years old, parental support and encouragements was key.

For many like Vermeer, Nicklaus and Navratilova, who found a supportive coach when she escaped poverty in a Czech province for Prague before seeking asylum in 1975 in the U.S., great coaches are paramount. The tennis champ also gives credit to a very supportive grandmother who encouraged her move to Prague for training and her stepfather who an important early trainer. She even credits the country’s then Communist system because it “encouraged girls equally” to achieve.

Nicklaus, with five kids and 22 grandkids, also salutes the family support he got and still gets (including from wife Barbara, one of the doc’s many talking heads) and especially his “great relationship with my dad,” which got him into golf.

And in a hat’s-off to failure, many of these champs mention the value of learning from mistakes and making corrections. Also mentioned as part of winning are positive thinking, forgetting about the competition, paying attention to details, “focusing from beginning to end,” “knowing what you can do,” being energized by the possibility of doing even better and, per Nicklaus, who studied the courses and his game plans prior to competitions, being well-prepared.

Winning, which also advocates (between the lines) adhering closely to the rules but bringing something of your own to them, teems with well-chosen archival material. This comprises some of the subjects’ greatest sports triumphs, whether at the Olympics, Wimbledon, the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, French Open, PGA Tour or the Paralympics. More intimate home movies and other personal material remind that they’re just like us (well, almost). There’s even some animation, notably in showing why Moses doing the hurdles amounts to an art form.

Winning is also visually pleasing if not exceptional. But if a question arises regarding its worthiness as a big-screen offering, “Isn’t everything?” will do as the default answer.

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