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Sports, from "Chariots of Fire," a movie about the 1924 Olympics

Subthemes: Tournaments, Sportsmanship, Practice and Coaches

Based on actual events, Chariots of Fire endearingly memorializes the individual and team exploits of the British track and field squad before and during the 1924 Olympic Games. We can enjoy several subthemes of Sports from the movie.

Here is a stirring trailer for the film.

Tournaments: This movie centers on the 1924 Olympic Games. Periodically, major sports organizations organize competitions among nations. The FIFA World Cup, Cricket World Cup, and Rugby World Cup command headlines and nationalistic fervor. Then there are clusters of events that draw in the world’s stars, such as the tennis Grand Slam, golf’s Majors, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, and the Triple Crown for horse racing. The Olympics used to allow amateurs only, unpaid contestants, but that blurred and ignored distinction with professional athletes has given way (as of 2016 even professional boxers. Another shift has seen the elevation of women’s sports and paraolympics; neither were even imagined taking part in the games of the movie.

Sportsmanship: One of the main characters bowed out of his race at the Olympics so that his Jewish teammate, who would not race on the Sabbath, could compete. That decision embodied good sportsmanship. Athletes imbued with a respect for the supposed values of sports – integrity, graciousness, tolerance – lose gracefully and congratulate the winner or win humbly and give full credit to opponents, coaches, fans, and good fortune. A “good sport” will call a close shot in favor of her opponent and will self-report errors (such as nudging a golf ball before a shot). Despite obvious breaches, an ethos of honor and honesty surrounds sports.

Practice and Coaches: Several scenes in the movie, including the memorable opening run along a beach, show the athletes conditioning or practicing. All accomplished athletes have invested years to learn their sport and work hard to hone and maintain their skills. Nowadays, serious athletes hire coaches who instruct them how they can improve their techniques, physical condition, strategy, and other aspects of their sport. The main character in the movie hired a trainer to accelerate his sprinting. World-class athletes devote almost every waking moment to perfecting their style and capabilities.


An engrossing movie from 1981 about an Olympic Games from a half century before brings out a number of aspects of Sports: the quadrennial Olympiad captivates the world and its finest athletes, to perform at that elite level takes years of dedicated preparation, and yet the creed of dealing fairly with your opponents shines through.

If you are interested in other thoughts on the concept “Sports,” consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, “About.”

We invite you to read about other movies discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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