My Way to Olympia

PBS Premiere: July 7, 2014Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Statement

As a disabled filmmaker, I was sure I was the perfect candidate to make a film about the 2012 London Paralympic Games. Mainly because I hate sports. I find watching any sporting event deathly boring, and the only competitive activity I ever take part in is an occasional game of chess. As a child I felt tortured by school gymnastics classes, and even now the smell of a gym turns my stomach and brings back painful memories of sadistic sports mistresses with scary boots and bristling moustaches.

Alongside my sports-phobia, I have a well-developed skepticism about disabled people — more specifically, about their neuroses, because they too accurately reflect my own. In the film, I follow my four widely different subjects as they prepare, qualify, train and strive to win at the 2012 Paralympic Games. I feel (rightly or wrongly) that being physically disabled myself makes it easier for me to burst the PC bubble and ask disabled people a load of direct, searching and sometimes uncomfortable questions. Questions like: Why do you put yourself through this? Aren't you just competing to prove yourself better than "normal people"? Isn't the Paralympics ultimately a freak-show?

So many people, myself included, live in denial of their weaknesses. These athletes are confronting their disabilities head-on, striving to conquer them. A man with no arms doesn't have to take up archery, and his life would be much easier if he hadn't. But the more time I spent with these athletes, the more I understood that they aren't just trying to be "as good as" non-disabled athletes. Playing table tennis with one hand, and playing volleyball while sitting on the floor, are totally different, separate and more challenging disciplines than the "normal" versions of these sports.

I found the Paralympics altogether more interesting, fun, human and inclusive than the Olympic Games. And as my relationships with my subjects became more intimate and, at times, more intrusive, I realized that Paralympians are much purer examples of the original Olympic spirit than many able-bodied Olympians. You can't become a Paralympic athlete without totally embracing the ideals of togetherness and shared participation. Even I, who will certainly never win Paralympic gold, found myself caught up in that spirit and unable to resist taking part.

— Niko von Glasow, Director/Writer, My Way to Olympia