Will the new tri documentary, Beyond Human, prove addictive viewing?
An access-all-areas documentary following three of triathlon’s biggest names is the right approach to hook a wider set of fans, says Tim Heming
Those with a memory for sports documentaries might remember The Impossible Job, the fly-on-the-wall look at England’s calamitous attempts to qualify for the 1994 football World Cup that unravelled faster than manager Graham Taylor’s sentence structure.
But not only did it introduce “Do I Not Like That” to the sporting vernacular, it hampered the chance for further access-all-areas exposés. The Premier League was starting to take off and its increasingly wealthy protagonists could see little benefit from risking public ridicule by ceding editorial control to some suspicious-looking creatives with a video camera.
A shame. But yet, a quarter-of-a-decade on, due to the proliferation of broadcasting, the rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime and their willingness to invest in original programming, we’ve seen not so much a rebirth, but an outpouring of the genre.
The mini-series boom was already in place before Covid struck, but the virus has made for an increasingly captive and captivated audience. Not just for football, cricket and tennis, but for Formula One, cycling, CrossFit and now, finally, triathlon.
Live sport’s trump card will always be unpredictability, yet stripped of this, the brilliance of hit shows such as Formula 1: Drive to Survive or the All Or Nothing series that followed Man City and Spurs, is the way viewers are given deep insights into the sports’ characters. When watching a rant of Haas team principal Guenther Steiner that happened months ago is more compelling than watching a live two-hour Grand Prix, it’s a sign of success.
There’s also some sleight of hand. Unlike poor Taylor, most subjects now retain the lion’s share of editorial control. Yet rather than feeling duped by a curated PR stunt – even if that’s what it reverts to at times (see The Test about the Aussie cricket team or Spurs manager Jose Mourinho making himself look the Extra Special One in All Or Nothing) – viewers accept the trade-off and are still drawn in.
Triathlon’s high-production broadcast is called Beyond Human. It’s funded by the Professional Triathletes Organisation, and will focus on Canadian Lionel Sanders, German Sebastian Kienle and American Heather Jackson. Noah Media, the creators of recent documentaries such as Finding Jack Charlton, about the late England World Cup winner’s fight with dementia, will produce it.
The cameras have followed the trio since before Challenge Daytona in December and will continue through to spring as they prepare for the $2milion Collins Cup in Slovakia. Producer and director Chris Hay said he’s hopeful that the production can help tri transcend its loyal following.
It has every chance. As with the Movistar documentary, The Least Expected Day, that followed the Spanish team through the 2019 season, triathletes have far more to gain and a lot less to lose than Premier League footballers. It should make the content more raw, more candid and, while attracting new fans to the sport, should keep the old ones spinning along on the turbo as well.