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It’s a wonder that aspiring Olympic athletes ever get to the games at all, considering the omnipresent cameras chronicling their every move. The latest in a seemingly endless line of inspirational sports documentaries, Mina T. Son and Sara Newens‘ film depicts the strenuous efforts of three young table tennis players to pursue their dreams at the 2012 London Olympics. Somewhat hampered by the fact that its subject is not exactly the most cinematic of sports, Top Spin, which recently received its worldpremiere at the DOC NYC festival, doesn’t manage to transcend the clichés of its genre but it could well inspire younger audience members to pick up a paddle
The filmmakers concentrate on three appealing teenagers: California friends Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang and Long Island native Michael Landers. Each has been pursuing their goal since a very young age, with Ariel having begun training for the Olympics since she was ten. The long hours of practice are but one of the many sacrifices involved, including Michael forgoing his last year of high school in favor of an online education and not attending his senior prom. He spends his summers training in China—that country dominates the sport, with the U.S. trailing far behind—while the rest of the year he plays at the trendy Manhattan ping pong club SPiN (actress Susan Sarandon is one of the owners), where’s he a resident star.
Benefiting from the strong support of their families—Ariel’s father serves as her coach—the youngsters’ daunting training regimens take a personal toll, with the sixteen-year-old complaining that “table tennis is a lonely sport.” But their efforts are clearly paying off: Ariel is a two-time U.S. Women’s Table Tennis Champion; Michael became the youngest U.S. Men’s Table Tennis Champion at age 15; and Lily was at one point ranked second in the world in her age group.
Featuring the obligatory tension-inducing countdown to the games, the film follows an all-too-familiar path, although the cameo appearances of table tennis supporters Bill Gates (described as “Uncle Bill” by one of the teens) and Warren Buffett provide some mild amusement.
Featuring a plethora of scenes in which the youngsters demonstrate their impressive skills in blindingly speedy, virtuosic fashion, Top Spin seems more suitable for cable television exposure than theatrical release.
Production: The Film Sales Company
Directors: Mina T. Son, Sara Newens
Producer: Mina T. Son
Editor: Sara Newens
Composer: JJ Lee
No rating, 80 min.
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