'Personal Gold: An Underdog Story': Film Review
Four Americans work to become cycling heroes without taking other stars' chemical short cuts.
A how-they-did-it doc aimed at the nerdiest of cycling enthusiasts, Sky and Tamara Christopherson's Personal Gold shows how a quartet of U.S. Olympians employed every means of getting faster except the drugs that brought disgrace to their peers. By not cluttering its scenes with much in the way of character development, the filmmakers ensure the doc will appeal mostly to those obsessed with the athletic implications of "quantified self" monitoring. Given the enthusiasm surrounding wearable electronics for personal fitness and athletic training, though, that may not be an insignificant demographic.
The directors were a part of the training program for the four-person Women's Pursuit team, making this essentially a diary of their intense final push of training. The women are facing a challenge only a racer can appreciate: "We have to make up 5 or 6 seconds in six months," one says, "which is, you know, a lifetime on the track."
The underfunded team (they only have one coach, which is evidently scandalous) recruits helpful volunteers ranging from a Navy SEAL to computer coders and medical researcher Eric Topol. Together, the group comes up with mindbogglingly specific ways to "get big data on each individual" and see how their bodies can be tweaked for higher performance. Headbands monitor their sleep cycles, for instance, allowing the racers' bedrooms to be redesigned to nudge them toward more biologically productive downtime. This is the kind of environment in which "wow" is the appropriate response to the words "you have a bunch of really high correlation coefficients."
Science aside, the filmmakers get some good action footage on the track without ever making the event's rules clear to any non-race-fan who might have wandered into the theater. On the big day at the 2012 London Olympics, some will have a hard time understanding just how the team managed to underperform: The doc's title notwithstanding, they took home silver medals, not gold.
Production: Amorgen Pictures
Directors: Sky Christopherson, Tamara Christopherson
Screenwriter: James Lockard
Producer: Sky Christopherson
Executive producer: Bill Gerber
Editors: Sky Christopherson, Jacob Kindberg
Music: Christian Davis
No rating, 89 minutes