For First, director Caroline Rowland chooses to follow 12 athletes who are competing in the Olympics for the first time. This seems like a good idea; however, the theme is never really developed. What is interesting about each athlete has little to do with their previous athletic achievements. Another annoying aspect of First is that Rowland often does not bother to identify the athletes by name until late in the film, if at all. The most glaring example is the British cyclist Laura Trott. U.K. audiences were no doubt so familiar with Trott’s story that she didn’t have to be identified. However, for viewers from the rest of the world, it is frustrating.
Rowland introduces us to many of the athletes while they are training back home and concludes with shots of several of them after the London 2012 Olympics. In between, she weaves in and out amongst the various athletes, their families, the atmosphere in London and Usain Bolt. Adding to the confusion is a soundtrack that is often difficult to decipher. During coverage of Brazilian swimmer Bruno Flatus’ attempt to gain a medal in the 50-meter freestyle, someone says, “This is the last race of the first part of my life.” Is this Flatus speaking? He competed again in the 2016 Olympics.
U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin wins four gold medals and one bronze medal. “It’s incredible,” she notes, “that my lifelong dream is happening when I’m seventeen.”
Another champion who is well-covered is Kenyan David Rudisha, who explains that his Olympic dream began when he discovered his father’s Olympic medal (a silver medal won in 1968 as a member of Kenya’s 4×400-meter relay team). Rudisha, in the climax of the film, wins the 800 meters in world record time and is shown embracing each of his opponents after the race.
Rowland does an excellent job of revealing and contrasting the emotions of winners and the disappointments of athletes who do not meet their own expectations. Some are satisfied knowing they will be Olympians for the rest of their lives. Others not so much.