This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.


Starring: Nadia Comăneci, Jack Nicklaus, Martina Navratilova, Edwin Moses, Esther Vergeer

Director: Jacqueline Joseph

Running Time: 78 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But It Could Easily Be G

Release Date: September 8, 2017 at Cinepolis Chelsea in New York City

For anyone expecting a chronicle of Charlie Sheen’s post-Two and a Half Men media blitz based on the title, you’re out of luck. Jacqueline Joseph’s documentary takes a much more straightforward approach to the concept of Winning, which is probably best for our insanity, but does it manage to be top-notch entertainment?

Joseph’s purpose is to identify what separates the all-time greatest athletes from the mere occasional champions. Ergo, Winning profiles five such folks who achieved some of the greatest winning streaks of all time: gymnast Nadia Comăneci, winner of nine Olympic medals and the first in her sport to earn a perfect 10.0 score; tennis player Martina Navratilova, owner of the longest winning streak (74 matches) in the open era; golfer Jack Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 major championships; track and field star Edwin Moses, winner of 122 consecutive races and former world record holder in the 400 meter hurdles; and wheelchair tennis player Esther Vergeer, who had a lifetime match record of 700-25.

While Winning does offer a few theses about the identity of a champion, none of them are particularly groundbreaking. All five athletes worked hard in their careers, leaps and bounds harder than not only the average person, but also that much more than even many of their rivals. This is common sense, but it is occasionally amusingly stated, as when Comăneci suggests that if that intensity is not for you, then just go be a spectator.

Winning also runs into the problem of how to devote enough space in less than an hour and a half to multiple figures who are all worthy of their own feature length docs. There is an effort made to demonstrate how each of them transcended their sports, but the meaningfulness therein is not on the same level for each of them. There is also some attempted connective tissue between the struggles that each of them faced when growing up, but again the magnitudes of those struggles do not quite match (Moses being teased for having “Kermit legs” is not exactly Navratilova defecting from communist Czechoslovakia at age 18).

Ultimately, Winning is enjoyable enough thanks to the winning personalities of its subjects. Comăneci is disarmingly blunt, Navratilova is naturally low-key charming, Nicklaus and Moses are genuinely folksy, and Vergeer is unfailingly sunny. If you train your camera on people who know better than anyone else how to perform under pressure, you’re going to get something at least somewhat worthwhile.

Winning is Recommended If You Like: Sports! Sports! All Kinds of Sports!

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Trophies