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 perfectly watchable.
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 "recommended."