Go for the Gold!

Shaw/Watha T. Daniel Library

Go for the Gold!

In honor of this year’s summer reading theme (Go for the Gold, Read!) and the close of the summer Olympics, here are my favorite inspirational sports films of those achieving their own personal gold.

Strictly Ballroom
If you type “is ballroom dancing” in Google, the first suggestion will be “is ballroom dancing a sport”. Most do not consider it so, but official competitions do not call it ballroom dance, but dancesport, which is recognized by the Olympic committee though unlikely to be a medal event anytime soon. What am I talking about?! I am talking about a quirky little comedy from Baz Luhrmann, known for Romeo+Juliet, Moulin Rouge!, and The Great Gatsby. His first film as writer and director brought us the journey of Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio), an Australian ballroom dancer who often tries to dance his own steps in dancesport competitions, leading to the loss of his dancing partner and the near nervous breakdown of his mother, a former ballroom dancer herself. Scott is undergoing a crisis he may not even be aware of, as the “strictly ballroom” rules stifle his creativity and he unconsciously rails against it in competition. When he is challenged by novice dancer Fran (Tara Morice) in his mother’s dance studio, who loves his original steps and calls him a coward for not pursuing them, he agrees to train her as a potential partner. In Scott and Fran’s journey, you see more passion and power come through them and their dance together. This movie, full of rhinestones, crazy dance costumes, and hilariously obsessive dance personalities is also a beautiful story of winning the battle for your soul in spite of critics or prizes.

“At its heart lie mythic contradictions: a pastoral game born in crowded cities, an exhilarating democratic sport that tolerates cheating, and has excluded as many as it has included. A profoundly conservative game that often manages to be years ahead of its time. Most of all it is about time and timelessness, speed and grace, failure and loss, imperishable hope, and coming home.” Thus begins the ten-volume documentary from Ken Burns detailing the 200-year history of America’s Pastime. From first organized clubs that initially allowed African American players, to the gentleman’s agreement that kept them out of organized baseball until Jackie Robinson, the first ever Rookie of the Year. From the spit-ball and the Black Sox to free agency, steroid abuse, and record-breaking home runs. From Babe Ruth, the son of a Baltimore tavern owner, to Hank Aaron, the last former Negro League player in Major League Baseball, who broke Ruth’s home run record of 714 in 1974. No other sport has a past that reflects so much of America’s complex history. Expertly narrated and edited with archival photographs, video, and radio of the most famous plays in the game.

This football biopic is considered by many the pinnacle of inspirational sports movies, and for good reason. Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger (Sean Astin) was one of fourteen children in a lower middle class family and had only one dream: to play for the Notre Dame football team. A reasonably talented and hardworking high school player with poor grades and dyslexia, he attended the local junior college, worked as a groundskeeper at the Notre Dame football stadium, and lived in a spare room in the basketball stadium to save money while he tried to achieve his dream. He applied to Notre Dame every semester as he fought to raise his grades high enough for their standards, and every semester was rejected. It came to the last semester of his junior year, the last semester Notre Dame would take transfers, that he was finally accepted. He tried out for the football team, and was sent to the practice squad, where he would never play a game in front of the crowd. It did not deter his fighting spirit, challenging the playing team to excel, and when he was allowed to finally play the last game of his college career, it was a stunning victory in perseverance. The stirring score by composer Jerry Goldsmith adds to its amazing power, as well as the acting of Sean Astin, whose despair and strength is superbly balanced as we root for Rudy.

Blades of Glory
Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell) and Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) are rival figure skaters in the World Winter Sport Games. Chazz is a uncouth and talented bad boy on ice, and his routines regularly cause women to toss him their underwear, while Jimmy is a talented and sheltered perfectionist on the ice, loved for his grace. When they tie in competition, their egos cause them to get into a fistfight, resulting in a lifetime ban as singles skaters. After a few years skating by (see what I did there?) on odd jobs selling ice skates and performing in children’s ice shows, they find a loophole in their ban by performing together as a pair. However, they must overcome their own demons, their mutual hatred of one another, and their rivals, the sibling pair Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler), who are the figure skating equivalent of Cersei and Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones. Can they overcome them all and win the gold? Watch this hilarious movie and find out!

Don't forget: there's still time to complete your summer reading logs and bring them into your local library to get your prizes, including a chance to win a Nationals on-field experience!