The Fall

Mining the rich seam of nostalgia we all have for iconic sporting moments, The Fall**** deconstructs the confluence of events that lead to Mary Decker and Zola Budd coming together in the 3000 metre final of the 1984 LA Olympics.

I remember the race so clearly, the anguish on Mary Decker’s face when she fell and the way Zola just faded away into the pack, “like a deflated balloon”, as the journalist Neil Wilson puts it. I remember the whole Olympics so well, including the opening ceremony – including the guy with the jet pack. Why haven’t we all got jet packs these days?

However, Daniel Gordon’s film carefully pieces history together so we once again feel the exact tensions and turmoil of that moment. Better still, he traces the ripples of that tumble right to the present day to complete a picture and instil it with the fragility of human life.

I won’t describe the jigsaw of these two lives here. Better to concentrate on how the film works its emotional arc and places a structure on the randomness of life which can forge an event out of the most disparate stories. How did an all-American girl in bunches and braces came to have her life (and legs) entwined with the spindly, withdrawn barefoot runner from a farm in Bloemfontein in apartheid-riven South Africa?

Throughout it all run different agendas, from that of Decker’s own drive to succeed, to that of the Daily Mail journalists who bought Budd’s story and the politicians who rushed her British citizenship through so she could run for team GB alongside Daley Thompson and Sebastian Coe. What a story.

The film becomes about ambition, pride, grief and trauma. It looks into the soul of two people who’d never met, who came together in a brief moment that shocked the world, then went their separate ways to recover. It took 30 years for them to do so, and you can feel the sadness in their souls still, even as they talk here of catharsis and closure.

The reunion at the end is one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever seen in a sports documentary. As former US coach Brooks Johnson says of the ’84 LA Olympics: “We knew it was going to be Hollywood”. But it’s real life – and real sport – that sometimes write the best storylines.

Featured image: Zola Budd

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