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Standing Start — Adrian McDowall and Finlay Pretsell, 2007

A unique insight into a cycling champion’s adrenaline and drive as he trains for the Olympics.

In this documentary, a narrator uses references to Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ (Odysseus and his crews’ epic 10-year journey home to Greece after the Trojan War) to create context for and comparison with the physical and mental preparation of athletes in an Olympic Cycling competition. The narrator uses Odysseus’ journey and the footage of the athletes to communicate that everyone’s ‘Life is a Journey’ and preparation to succeed is the most important pathway.

Classroom Activities

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  • Watch and listen to the narrator’s opening words. How do these opening words provide the context for an ‘epic journey’? In what way(s) do these words link to the documentary title: ‘Standing Start’?
  • Watch the sequence from beginning to 03:00 minutes: How are the camera techniques of close-up and freeze frame used to communicate ‘Life is a Journey’ which requires focused preparation?
  • Watch and listen to the sequence from 03:00 to 06:16 minutes. How does the editing of the documentary increase the viewer’s focus on the competitive aspect of ‘Life is a Journey’? How does the soundtrack combine with the editing to make the sequence thrilling? The narrator says: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. What do the narrator’s words mean? How does the meaning of the narrator’s words compliment the combination of editing and soundtrack?
  • The cyclist is also the drummer: in what ways are these two activities connected? What is the impact of these connections on the viewer?
  • Explain why freeze frame/still shots show the sensation of the speed of the cyclists. How does the use of camera shots communicate the sense of being on a bike to the viewer?


  • The Olympics are a global event. Spectators support their own country but to what extent can we applaud success and ‘excellence’ when the champion(s) come from elsewhere?
  • Ask pupils about their participation in sport: is it active or passive? How competitive do they feel as participants and/or spectators? Is the desire to win more important than participating to the best of ability?
  • Is sport an important part of your culture and society? Explain how and why it is important. Are some sports more important than others? Why?
  • The narrator uses Homer’s epic story ‘The Iliad’: make notes on any film/video game and/or written text you have experienced that may also have used ‘The Iliad’ as the key structure of the storytelling. Use of online search engines will help you recall.



  • Look at sequences from the documentary and write a short story focused on the tension building up. You should write dialogue to describe what the participants are thinking.
  • If you decided to give this documentary another title, what would you call it?


  • Role-play a conversation between the athlete and his coach.


  • Design a poster encouraging people to take part in sport. This could be a particular sport or sport in general.


  • How important are sporting activities to health and wellbeing?
  • In what ways does being involved in physical fitness or sport also involve a mind being focused on strategies, teamwork and being successful?
  • What are the physical effects of exercise on the human body?

Clip Details

Year of Production 2007
Genre Documentary
Curriculum Areas Health and Wellbeing, Literacy and English, Religious and Moral Education, Sciences
Director Adrian McDowall and Finlay Pretsell
Country of Origin UK
Medium / Content Live Action, Non-Fiction, Colour, Sound
Themes Culture / Society, Work / Ambition, Identity / Self
Clip Length 12:29
Clip Length 12:29
Age Group S1-S3, S4-S6