3 Seconds from Glory – Movie Review
WRITTEN, NARRATED AND DIRECTED BY DAVID GOLDIE. EPISODES 1 & 2 DURATION: 60 MINUTES. FORMAT: VHS. DG MEDIA, 1999.
3 Seconds From Glory (1999) was made by film-maker David Goldie, who also made Spirit 2000: An Olympic Games for all Australians (2000). (1) Goldie says in the introduction to 3 Seconds From Glory, that he has always had a desire to do a film about the para-olympics. In this two part documentary, Goldie uses voice-over techniques, as well as flashback sequences and repetition, to cleverly juxtapose the struggles with the triumphs of four young Australian women aged fourteen to twenty-four years, as they prepare for the 1998 IPC Disability World Athletics Championships in Birmingham, England.
The film opens with footage of the men’s World Championship sprint relay which, Goldie informs us in the voice-over, is a blue ribbon event for men but one in which Australian women have had no success. The sprint relay involves three changes and one lap of the track. However, to secure a victory over the highly regarded US team, these young Australian women will have to propel themselves around the track a full three seconds faster than they have ever clocked before.
Goldie skillfully uses interviews with family members, old family photographs and videos, and re-enactments, to give the viewer an acute insight into the background of each of these four young women and what motivates them to compete in these World Championships.
Early in the film we see a flashback to three weeks before the World Championships. It is a crisp early morning in Centennial Park, Sydney. Louise Sauvage, the veteran of the team at twenty-four years, goes through her gruelling routine with relay coach Andrew Dawes from the NSW Institute of Sport. Her mother Rita says there was no indication before Louise was born that she was going to be disabled. However, Louise was born with one leg at the bottom of her body and the other leg over the top of her shoulder. This resulted in her being in plaster for most of her early life. For more than six years Louise has been competing as an individual competitor and no one on any track has been able to beat her. Louise is the linchpin of the team. Any chance of success at the World Championships will rest heavily on her broad shoulders.
Holly Ladmore is the youngest of the team at fourteen years. We see her begin training at dawn near her home in Bateman’s Bay, NSW. Holly, who says she is still accepting her disability, has a self-depreciating humour that shines through. She was born with a blood clot on her spine. We also learn that Holly went with her parents, Ron and Claire, to Hungary for treatment, in an unsuccessful attempt to get her walking again. Although this treatment helped Holly to stand upright for the first time, moving her legs was terribly slow and painful. Holly explains that she felt more disabled than if she had been in a wheelchair. In fact, the wheelchair actually gave her more freedom.
Christie Skelton is 18-years-old and nearing the end of her final year at St Francis Xavier College in Newcastle, NSW. Both Christie’s sister Kylie and her mother Roslyn provide valuable insights into Christie’s background. We learn that Christie suffered a spinal injury due to a car accident. Prior to this accident, Christie had been an aspiring gymnast. In a cruel twist of fate, Christie’s father had also died twelve months before the accident. However, Christie looks upon herself as lucky because she has what is termed as a ‘good injury’. This means that the she is only paralysed from the waist down. The intervening years have been a period of slow adjustment for Christie, helped by the great support from her family and her close friendship with Louise.
Angie Ballard is sixteen years old. Angie explains that she has a recurring dream where she falls out of her wheelchair backwards and does a somersault. She then jumps up and can walk. Angie has had this particular dream ever since she became disabled in a car accident, which is chillingly re-enacted in the film. On that fateful night Angie’s mother Kristen was tired when she got behind the wheel. The car containing Angie, her brother and her sister, veered off the road, down an embankment and collided head-on with a tree. For Kristen the sense of guilt is something she can never get away from nor can she change what has happened.
We see all four girls training for the sprint relay on a bitterly cold wintry day, with constant rain lashing the track. This sequence demonstrates the difficulties that the girls will face come race day. All three changeovers during the sprint relay must be accomplished at maximum speed and within a restricted zone marked out on the track. Angle mistakenly crosses her relay changeover point too soon, so that Christie is unable to tag Angie within the prescribed changeover zone. Although Angle moves untagged to change with Louise, by now the team would be technically disqualified. This error is a harsh reminder of the precision that will be demanded at the World Championships in just a matter of days. Moreover, the intensity of a world competition will place the girls’ lack of experience under tremendous pressure, Louise being the only medal winner at an international competition.
Scenes of the colourful opening ceremony in Birmingham launch a week of World Championship competition. We watch the girls struggle with the disappointment of losing individual events, although the whole team is buoyed when Louise is able to win her particular event. Then follows a great gold medal win over the British team in the longer relay race (each girl must complete one full lap), shattering an incredible eleven seconds off the world record. This event is the warm-up to the prestigious relay sprint in just two days. However, the girls also learn that in the sprint relay their American rivals will have Leanne Shannon, the fastest sprinter in the world.
Goldie expertly builds up the tension and the excitement as the big relay sprint race approaches. Close-ups on the anxious but committed faces of the Australian girls as they take to the track are intercut with Louise’s mum Rita and the anguished face of coach Andrew Dawes in the stands. The starter fires the gun and the race begins. Scenes of the ferocious struggle on the track, with Louise finally taking the Australian girls to victory, are undeniably moving. However, in an ironic twist, even though the Australian girls are Gold medalists and world champions, they are not world record holders in this event, missing out by three seconds.
With 3 Seconds From Glory, David Goldie has crafted an involving and heartfelt portrait of four inspiring young women who are strong, gutsy performers, both on the track and in their personal lives. Possibly, more information about the degree to which both technical skill and shear physical strength play a part in being able propel yourself around the track faster than anyone else, and the relationship between these attributes and the psychological strength required, would have given viewers a greater knowledge of the overall abilities needed to be a para-olympic relay champion. However, through candid profiles, Goldie has managed to provide a wonderful insight into the physical and psychological obstacles that these women have had to overcome, which gives the viewer a deep understanding and admiration for their extraordinary achievements.
Angie sums up the sense of admiration one feels for the achievement of these four world champions:
I’ll tell anyone I’m glad I’m in the chair. I mean, I’d give anything to be able to walk. What being in the chair has given me is massive, just all these opportunities. My racing is great compensation, just to be able to do all these things because of my disability.
(1.) See Tara Brabazon’s review in Austrian Screen Education, no 29, Winter 2002 p. 217
Peter Wilshire is a Cinema Studies Honours Graduate at La Trobe University, a film writer, and life-long film enthusiast.
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