Rush – the celluloid account of the rivalry between F1 stars Niki Lauda and James Hunt – motored into UK cinemas last week. So to celebrate the release of this really rather brilliant biopic, we’ve written up a list of other sporting rivalries ripe for movie treatment. So from tennis and rugby to basketball and boxing, bad blood runs think between the following sporting titans…
‘Fire & Ice’ is what HBO called its documentary about the rivalry between Björn Borg and John McEnroe, a fitting title for a film about two men who could not have been more different. Borg was a cool, calm and collected Swede, whose long hair, hulking frame and good looks made him something of a heartthrob. McEnroe was skinny, brash and outspoken, arguing with umpires, and frequently throwing on-court tantrums that made him hugely unpopular with crowds at the start of his career.
They played each other 14 times competitively, with each man claiming seven victories. And the most famous of their matches was the 1980 Wimbledon Final, which many believe to be the greatest of all-time. It was McEnroe’s first final, while Borg was aiming for a fifth consecutive Wimbledon title. The match couldn’t have been closer, with the two men playing a 20-minute tie-breaker in the fourth set before Borg won in the fifth. McEnroe had his revenge two months later when he defeated Borg in the U.S. Open Final, and the next year he beat Borg in the Wimbledon Final, ending the Swede’s 41-game winning streak at the All-England Club.
The rivalry took its toll on Borg, the Swede retiring in 1983, and prematurely bringing to an end one of the greatest rivalries in tennis. And yet as the HBO film documents, the two left it all on the court, becoming great friends and thereby giving their story a heart-warming happy ending.
Casting: Jay Baruchel as McEnroe, Alexander Skarsgard as Borg.
Created in 1927 at the Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts, The Ryder Cup is a golfing contest that was originally fought between Great Britain and the United States every two years, but because of America’s continued dominance, the rules were changed in 1979 to pit the States against all of Europe. Since then Europe has won the Cup nine times and retained it once, and the States have won it seven times. And by far the most fiery of those recent contests was the so-called ‘Battle of Brookline’ which was fought at The Country Club in Massachusetts in 1999, and would be as much war movie as sporting story.
Controversy kicked off early, with American golfers winding up their European counterparts in press conferences and interviews and their fans heckling the European players, with Colin Montgomerie bearing the brunt of their wrath. But worse was to come. On the final day, the Europeans were leading 10-6 and needing only four points to retain the Cup. But the Americans absolutely blitzed them, winning the first six matches of the day. It all came down to the game between America’s Justin Leonard and Europe’s José María Olazábal, and on the 17th, Leonard holed a remarkable 40-foot putt, prompting the U.S. team and some of their fans to run onto the green to celebrate. Olazábal still had a shorter putt of his own to keep the game alive however, but by this time his putting line had been walked all over, and he missed, handing America the cup.
Controversy aside, it was the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history, the script for this one pretty much writing itself.
This movie could just as easily be about the rivalry between the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics, but nothing typifies that competition more than the epic battle fought between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird throughout the 1980s.
The conflict began in 1979 however, when Johnson’s Michigan State defeated Bird’s Indiana State in the 1979 NCAA championship game. Two very different men, they carried their rivalry into the NBA, pushing each other to ever greater sporting feats, with either Johnson’s Lakers or Bird’s Celtics contesting the championship in every year of the decade. LA beat Boston in two of the three finals they played, while Johnson won five NBA championships to Bird’s three.
Ruthlessly competitive on the court, they disliked each other off it, but that slowly started to change as the decade progressed, the two forging something of a friendship while shooting a Converse commercial in 1985. Today they are firm friends, these two titans of the game appearing on chat-shows together and collaborating on everything from books to documentaries to Broadway shows, and so yet another fierce rivalry gets a happy Hollywood ending.
While the rivalry between these two boxing titans was touched upon in Michael Mann’s Ali, there really is much more of a story to be told; one of powerful, tough-talking men and superhuman sporting feats. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier hated each other, with Frazier insisting on calling his opponent Cassius Clay (he'd changed his name to Muhammad by that point), and Ali repeatedly calling him Uncle Tom back. But they fought in three of the greatest bouts in boxing history.
On March 8, 1971 they competed in the ‘Fight of the Century’ at Madison Square Gardens, where Frazier’s legendary left hook knocked Ali down in the 15th, helping him to win the bout on points, the first defeat of Ali’s career.
Their second meeting was a non-title bout which again went to points, with Ali just about edging it. And their final fight – the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’ – saw both men pound each other to the point of near-death before Frazier’s trainer threw in the towel at the end of the 14th.
Even after they’d hung up their gloves the pair continued to trade insults, apologising one day and then slating each other the next, their relationship confusing, confounding and filling column inches until Frazier’s death in 2011.
Casting: Will Smith as Ali, again, and Chewitel Ejiofor as Frazier.
ESPN made a TV movie about Roger Bannister, but the real story is of the rivalry between the Brit and Australian James Landy, which culminated in a hugely dramatic race that was later dubbed the ‘Miracle Mile.’ The competition between the two revolved around running the four-minute mile, a feat which many had thought impossible.
But on May 6, 1954, Bannister did just that, running a sub-four-minute mile at Iffley Road Track in Oxford. Then miraculously, less than two months later, Landy shaved more than a second off Bannister’s time, paving the way for a titanic showdown at the British Empire Games in Vancouver that same year.
Landy led for the majority of the race, but during the final lap – in a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan – he looked over his shoulder to see where Bannister was, a glance that coincided with the Brit powering past him and winning the race. A magical sporting moment, it has since been captured for posterity as a huge bronze sculpture which still stands to this day in Vancouver, and thoroughly deserves its own big screen adaptation.
New York and Boston were rivals long before baseball was invented, but the sport has brought out both the best and the worst of both cities. At the start of the 20th century the Red Sox were the dominant force in baseball, winning the first World Series in 1903 and four more before 1919. Then their owner Harry Frazee decided to sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and it all went horribly wrong.
Ruth’s Yankees reached the World Series seven times and were victorious on four occasions. And in what came to be known as the ‘Curse of the Bambino,’ the Red Sox failed to win the World Series for 86 years.
It was very nearly worth the wait however, with the Red Sox 2004 AL Championship Series victory truly worthy of Hollywood. They were pitted against the Yankees – of course – and while New York quickly went 3-0 up, Boston made one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history to take the series 4-3 and break the 86-year curse.
The England and Australian cricket teams have played for the Ashes ever since the Aussies defeated England at The Oval in 1882 and a fake obituary was written about cremating the dead corpse of English cricket in The Sporting Times. The teams now play every two years for an urn filled with the ashes of a burnt bail.
By far the most controversial Ashes contested by the two sides was the 1932-33 England tour of Australia (which was turned into a mini-series in 1984, but has never received the movie treatment). The previous tour had seen Aussie batsman Don Bradman – perhaps the greatest sportsman of all-time – dominate the English, scoring a whopping 974 runs. To counter his enormous skill with the bat, the English employed the ‘Bodyline’ delivery, whereby the ball was bowled towards the body of the batsman on the line of leg stump.
Critics felt that such potentially dangerous deliveries went against the gentlemanly traditions of the game, the controversy triggered enormous ill will between the two teams, and it even became a diplomatic issue, with the Australian Prime Minister meeting with the Australian Cricket Board to put an end to the issue.
England won the series 4-1, and while the rules were changed several times to prevent such tactics, the intimidation of batsmen is now a normal part of the game.
This would be less inspiration sports movie and more straightforward horror film. Back in the early 1990s, American figure skater Tonya Harding’s career was seemingly in decline, with Harding having a disappointing year in 1992, and failing to qualify for the World Championship team in 1993.
At much the same time, Nancy Kerrigan’s career was on the rise, winning bronze at the 1992 Winter Olympics, silver at the World Championships that same year, and becoming United States champion in 1993. She was therefore one of the favourites going into the 1994 Winter Olympics, but disaster struck in January of that year when she was attacked by a man as she left skating practise, her knee clubbed with a metal baton.
And in a twist worthy of the Saw saga, it turned out that the attack was planned by Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and her bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt. And while she claimed no knowledge of the plan in advance, Harding eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers, receiving probation, community service and a fine.
Kerrigan quickly recovered and went on to win silver at the Olympics, becoming America’s sporting sweetheart in the process. Harding barely skated again, embarked an unsuccessful boxing career, and released a sex tape.
Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus sparred on golf courses throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. Palmer won the 1960 U.S. Open, but was nearly pipped at the post by 20-year-old amateur Nicklaus. Just two years later it was a very different result however, with Nicklaus defeating Palmer in a play-off, the first of many major wins.
There’s was as much a friendship as feud, Palmer handsome and relaxed, trailed by ‘Arnie’s Army’, Nicklaus the chubby young upstart with a buzz cut and a killer fade. But they’re rivalry would transcend the sport, the pair pushing each other on and dominating golf for the best part of two decades.
They won 25 majors between them, but this particular rivalry had a very definite victor, with Palmer winning seven, and Nicklaus a whopping 18, an achievement that may never be beaten; and an inspirational story that would make a marvellous movie.
There are great club rivalries in football all worthy of their own movies – Celtic-Rangers, Barcelona-Real Madrid, Boca Juniors-River Plate and Manchester United-Liverpool to name but four. And neighbouring countries often come to blows, from Spain and Portugal to Germany and Holland. But England-Argentina is a strange one.
It all kicked off at the 1966 World Cup, when England defeated Argentina 1-0 in what the Argentine’s called ‘The Theft of the Century’ because they believed Geoff Hurst’s solitary goal to be off-side. Their captain Antonio Rattin was also sent off, the player remonstrating with match officials and refuing to leave the pitch, actions which prompted the England manager to call the team ‘animals.’
But that was nothing compared to the meeting between the sides at the 1986 World Cup. Tensions were already high thanks to the Falklands War being fresh in the minds of both countries. The final belonged to Argentine genius Diego Maradona however, the greatest player in the world at the time. Maradona scored his country’s first goal using his hand – later calling it the ‘Hand of God.’ And his second was quite possibly the greatest goal in the history of the World Cup, picking the ball up on the half-way line, ghosting past half the England team, and calmly slotting home. Even though Gary Lineker got one back, Argentina won 2-1 and went onto lift the World Cup. But Maradona remains sporting enemy number one in England, his story one of hero or villain depending on which side you support.
Casting: Luis Guzman as Maradona.
Chris Tilly is the Entertainment Editor for IGN in the UK and wants to know what your favourite sporting rivalries are. So if you think Phelps and Thorpe should have made the above cut. Or Navratilova and Evert. Or even Jockey Wilson and Eric Bristow, let us know in the comments below. And when you've done that come follow me on Twitter and MyIGN.
Source : ign[dot]com