I should explain that, in addition to writing film reviews, I am the president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, and I have worked as a radio or television commentator at every Olympics since 1988. I also wrote a 1,350-page book that covers every sport and every event in the Olympics.
Almost every sport falls into one of two categories: individual or team. If an athlete in an individual event wins a competition, he or she is hailed as the victor. In team sports, some players and some positions get more attention, but even those in less high-profile roles, like defenders in soccer (football) or offensive linemen in football (American football), attract some praise if their team wins. The only exception among major sports is cycling. Road cycling is a team sport. Yet, certain members of each team are almost completely ignored.
In Wonderful Losers: A Different World, documentary filmmaker Arūnas Matelis’ first film in twelve years, he focuses on cyclists who are known in France as domestiques and in Italy as gregarios. Their job is to support the other riders on the team. Early on, Matelis shows us a gregario at work. From the sidelines, he gathers several bottles of water and then races forward, distributing a bottle to each other member of his team. Later, he falls back and does the same with a sandwich or an energy drink. Keep in mind that the gregario has to be in extremely good shape to repeatedly sprint forward to help the stars. Yet when the race is over, it’s the stars who mount the podium, while the gregario stands back and watches.
Besides following a gregario, Matelis shows us the perspective of the medical staff that accompanies the riders, tending to fallen and sometimes badly injured cyclists, as well as giving them injections in their bottoms without the rider or the medical staff really stopping.
Matelis’ previous film, Before Flying Back to Earth, about a hospital ward for children with leukemia, was also chosen as Lithuania’s submission to the Academy Awards.
If you want to know why it took so long for Matelis to produce another film, the main reason is that he had to make a living. To raise the money to complete the project, he had to engage co-producers from seven other countries besides his native Lithuania: Italy, Switzerland, Latvia, Belgium, United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain. It took him seven years of filming the famous Giro d’Italia race to capture the footage he needed.
A true labor of love, Wonderful Losers: A Different World is a worthwhile reminder that there is more to the world of sports than just famous athletes.