The Daily Personal Gold Film Review:

Film review: ‘Personal Gold: An Underdog Story,’ dir. Tamara Christopherson

“Personal Gold” isn’t a “30 for 30.” But by all measures, it deserves to be regarded as highly as one.

Over the past five years, the subgenre of the sports documentary has experienced an evolution.

With the rise of ESPN’s critically acclaimed “30 for 30” series — which now totals nearly 75 feature-length films since its 2009 launch — gone are the days of game-centric storytelling, and in its stead a focus on the stories and personalities behind the performances.


Posted: Tuesday, May 19, 2015 12:00 am

Joe Veyera

“Personal Gold” isn’t a “30 for 30.” But by all measures, it deserves to be regarded as highly as one.

The directorial debut of Seattle native Tamara Christopherson, the documentary chronicles the efforts of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Track Cycling team in the lead-up to the London Olympics.

It doesn’t take long to establish there are several obstacles trying to take the air out of their tires well before they reach England.

With limited funding and a general skepticism of the sport as news breaks of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, the team faces long odds while already sitting several seconds off the gold medal pace set by the powers of Australia and Great Britain.

As the three-month training window quickly dwindles, the Americans turn to data collection with documentary producer and former cyclist Sky Christopherson at the helm, tracking every element of physical performance in an effort to make minimal gains that would snowball into medal contention. With those other nations spending tens of millions of dollars on their programs, the task at hand for the U.S. team seems improbable, if not insurmountable.

But don’t be fooled by the storyline: This isn’t the cliche underdog tale you’ve seen before.

The tension that builds as the key races approach never feels manufactured, while many of the behind-the-scenes clips filling in the personalities of the team members take on a found footage quality, removing the fourth wall.

Not only does this make it easier to get immersed in the story, but seeing the temperament behind the competitors makes them relatable as people, not just their athletic facades.

It certainly helps that the quartet of Dotsie Bausch, Sarah Hammer, Lauren Tamayo, and UW alumna Jennie Reed are all compelling figures in their own right. The production reveals just enough of their lives beyond the track to establish why this particular group of cycling misfits makes for a captivating combination.

Checking in at just under 90 minutes, the documentary feels long enough to chronicle the story without overstaying its welcome. Anything lengthier would have been emotionally draining, but a shorter story wouldn’t have built the depth necessary to feel invested. 

By the time they reach London, it’s near impossible not to be.

“Personal Gold” screens Tuesday, May 19, at 7 p.m. at AMC Pacific Place 11. Tamara and Sky Christopherson are scheduled to be in attendance.

The verdict: A documentary worthy of the Olympic glory it captures.


Reach Editor-in-Chief Joe Veyera at arts@dailyuw.comTwitter: @JoeVeyera

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