Winner 2008

The Red Race

NDR Fernsehen, Shanghai Media Group

With startling access and devastating honesty, The Red Race tracks the plight of Chinese child gymnasts who are being groomed for Olympic stardom—but at what cost? Six-year-old boys and girls are forced to build unnatural muscle and constantly perform grueling routines. A young girl sobs while being made to hold a handstand, her coach screaming in a shrill voice for her to stop crying. Children barely old enough to write are led to sign contracts that will bind them to their sport. Stressed-out coaches are told they will lose their jobs, and parents worry about their children’s futures if the youngsters aren’t successful. Without narration, this documentary weaves together the stories of the children, families and coaches enmeshed in the Shanghai gymnastics world with stark imagery and bold implications. And yet, the most remarkable aspect of the film is the children themselves, who somehow manage to maintain their innocence despite immense pressures put upon them. The Red Race is a poignant, heartbreaking look into the ruthless world of Chinese gymnastics, framed against a subtle undercurrent of national identity. For a beautifully shot, tenderly rendered, but shocking look at the making of perfection in the world’s most populous country, The Red Race receives a Peabody Award.


Executive producers: Patricia Schlesinger, Ying Qiming. Director: Chao Gan. Photographers: Wei Gong, Qian Zhu. Editor: Bas Roeterink.