Among the general public and
athletes alike, the term "Ironman" conjures up an image of
the toughest of the tough athletes. Triathlons in general are
certainly challenging, requiring competitors to swim, bike, and run
all in one event, but the sheer length of these segments in an
Ironman event is certainly something special. The idea of swimming
2.4 miles in the ocean, jumping on a bicycle to ride 112 miles, and
then finishing it all up with a full-length marathon is daunting, to
say the least, but it's clear that for the Ironman participants, many
of whom compete year after year, find it a worthwhile challenge.
This DVD, titled simply "1997
Ironman Triathlon World Championship," is a 90-minute
documentary about the 1997 Hawaii Ironman. The feature was clearly
made originally for television broadcast, and is in about equal parts
coverage of the race itself, and "human interest" piece
about the participants. With a narrative voiceover and many interview
segments with the participants, the program follows the Ironman race
from beginning to end.
The program doesn't always find the
right balance between its two potential audiences, those who are
familiar with the Ironman, and those who aren't. As a viewer in the
latter category, I found that the film made a number of assumptions
about what I was supposed to know, and as a result some parts were a
little confusing; it's not clear from the program, for instance, that
the Hawaii Ironman is the "World Championship" Ironman (it
sounds from the program like it's the only Ironman race there is),
and there's reference to a "lottery" for entry (a visit to
the Ironman official website turned up the fact that there are a few
slots in the race reserved for amateurs who get in through a lottery
system). Apart from those bumps in the road, though, the coverage is
clear and easy to follow, as we're introduced to the main contenders
in both the men's and women's races, and follow them throughout the
day as they proceed through the three stages of the race.
The race itself is quite
interesting; the program does a good job of establishing who's who
among the big names, and there's definite drama in seeing who will
manage to pull off the win, and who will not. Both the men's and the
women's races are compelling, not just for the first-place finish,
but also for the hard-fought top-ten spots as well.
A substantial part of the program is
devoted to interview clips and background information on a handful of
the competitors, including the top challengers in the men's and
women's races, and a few of the "ordinary people"
competitors as well. For the most part, these are interesting, and
help to put a personality and identity behind the racers for viewers
who aren't familiar with the big names in the sport; it's also nice
to get a sense of what motivates the people whose challenge is to
finish, not to win. The one unfortunate element in this part of the
program is that there's far too much time spent on one particular
amateur competitor, who is running in memory of his deceased young
daughter. Complete with sappy imagery and obvious button-pushing,
it's an attempt at tear-jerking taken to the level of exploitation.
The truth is that there's plenty of
human interest here, without any need for manipulation. Toward the
end of the program, as we see the competitors nearing the finish
line, the impact of the full Ironman becomes more and more apparent.
Some, pushed beyond their limits, can't finish and have to abandon.
What really will stick with you, though, is the image of the racers
who, despite completely using up all their energy reserves, still
struggle to make it across the line, stumbling, falling, and even
crawling on hands and knees. It's impossible not to admire the effort
and courage involved.
The 1997 Ironman program is
presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The program, which
was originally made for television and uses live broadcast footage of
the race, looks acceptable; it's somewhat soft, but otherwise
The sound is clear and distinct,
with both the narrative voiceover and the athlete interviews sounding
clear and easy to understand.
This is an ultra-bare-bones disc,
without even a menu, let alone chapter stops.
I found the 1997 Ironman
Triathlon World Championship DVD to be quite an interesting
viewing experience. It's probably slightly more geared toward casual
viewers rather than dedicated triathlon fans, as there's a lot more
"human interest" material than race coverage, but all in
all, it's an entertaining 90-minute production. I'll give it a mild