Personal Best (film)

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Personal Best
Directed by Robert Towne
Produced by Robert Towne
Written by Robert Towne
Music by Jill Fraser
Jack Nitzsche
Cinematography Michael Chapman
Edited by Jacqueline Cambas
Jere Huggins
Ned Humphreys
Walt Mulconery
Bud S. Smith
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
February 5, 1982
Running time
124 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $5,672,311

Personal Best is a 1982 film centered on a group of women trying to qualify for the American track-and-field team bound for the 1980 Olympic Games. Despite their commitment to their training regimen, their dreams are thwarted when the United States announces its boycott of the Games for political reasons, leaving them with only the informal "personal best" marks they achieved during training to connote their achievements.

The movie starred Mariel Hemingway and real-life track star Patrice Donnelly, along with Scott Glenn as the coach of the track team. It was written, produced and directed by Robert Towne.

The film was praised by critics for providing a realistic look at the world of women's athletics, for exploring the complex relationships that can exist among teammates and their coach, and for its sensitive portrayal of the relationship between an older lesbian (Donnelly) and a younger bisexual woman (Hemingway). Despite good reviews, it flopped at the box-office.

Many of the scenes were filmed in San Luis Obispo County. While the sign on the track said "Cal Poly", which is a university in San Luis Obispo, it was filmed at the track at Morro Bay High School. There are also two scenes filmed at restaurants in downtown San Luis Obispo; the Cigar Factory and 1865. Filming locations in Eugene, Oregon, included Hayward Field and the nearby Track Town Pizza restaurant.

Plot summary[edit]

Chris Cahill is a young athlete who competes unsuccessfully in the 1976 U.S. Olympic trials. She meets a more experienced track and field competitor, Tory Skinner, and their friendship evolves into a romantic relationship.

Tory gives tips to Chris on how to improve as she trains for a shot at the 1980 Olympic team in the pentathlon, but their coach, Terry Tinghoff, insists on being the only one whose advice Chris follows. Anger and jealousy develop, more so when Chris begins a heterosexual relationship with Denny Stites, a swimmer.


Many elite track and field athletes of the day played in the film, including:

References in popular culture[edit]

An SCTV sketch entitled Chariots of Eggs featured a film within a film parodying both this film and Chariots of Fire.

The lesbian relationship in the movie is referenced by Ross Geller in an episode of the fourth season of Friends. The lesbian relationship is also referenced in episode 10 of the first season of American Dad!, and in the 1997 Ellen episode "The Puppy Episode".

The 1995 Team Dresch queercore album Personal Best took its name and cover imagery from the film.


Critical response[edit]

Personal Best garnered a 77% approval rating at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[2] It was noted for its physicality and forthright treatment of sensitive emotional issues. Roger Ebert gave the film four of a possible four stars and wrote: "This is a very physical movie, one of the healthiest and sweatiest celebrations of physical exertion I can remember...It is filled with the uncertainties, risks, cares, and rewards of real life, and it considers its characters' hearts and minds, and sees their sexuality as an expression of their true feelings for each other."[3]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


External links[edit]