Photo: Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson
Photo: Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson

Sports documentaries that shine a spotlight on Canadian athlete stories

Whether it’s in person, on a living room TV, or on a mobile phone, we love watching our favourite athletes compete.

But ever wonder what goes on behind-the-scenes of an athlete’s career? Well, look no further. Here’s a list of documentaries that feature some of Canada’s favourite athletes.

Defying Gravity: The Untold Story of Women’s Gymnastics

This brand new six-part docuseries includes Ellie Black as one of the featured athletes as it dives into what it takes to be an elite gymnast, including the risks and rewards, sacrifices and dedication. It will also reportedly explore the body image issues and ageism that is often associated to artistic gymnastics. It premieres on September 21 at noon ET on YouTube, with new episodes being posted weekly.

P.K. Subban Skate Past the Noise: The Off-Season

We all know the defenceman for his pre-game style, being part of the Sochi 2014 gold medal team, and his big personality. This 45-minute documentary gives us a closer look, from his humble beginnings growing up in Toronto to his first NHL playoff game with the Montreal Canadiens – a career highlight that propelled him to his future success. But all good things come to an end, with the doc showing his inner circle’s reaction to Subban’s controversial trade to the Nashville Predators. Despite the highs and lows, the documentary made the larger-than-life Olympian even more loveable.

Inside an Athlete’s Head

We’ve all heard it before: an athlete’s mental game is just as important as their physical one. But what exactly goes on in an athlete’s head? This CBC documentary series answers just that, featuring some of Canada’s most well-known athletes including Erica Wiebe, Spencer O’Brien, Melissa Humana-Paredes, Kaetlyn Osmond, and Jesse Lumsden. Each episode takes you on an athlete’s journey as they push their physical limits, overcome injury, or deal with anxiety or stigma surrounding their sports. You can watch all 12 episodes on CBC Gem.

Engraved on a Nation: The Bailey Experience

Who can forget Donovan Bailey at Atlanta 1996? You’ll be running to watch this documentary that details what it took to be the fastest man in the world. This one doesn’t hold back as the film takes you into the highs and lows that Bailey experienced after his successes at the Games, with featured interviews from teammates like Bruny Surin and commentators like Bob Costas. The documentary can be found on TSN.


In judged sports, absolute perfection is the goal. Leading up to qualifications for Rio 2016, that is what Team Canada’s synchro swimmers were striving to achieve. This documentary takes you beyond the pool at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal where the team trained 10 hours a day, six days a week. The behind-the-scenes footage will give you a whole new appreciation of what it takes to try and get a perfect score. Check out the documentary on CBC Gem.

Beyond the Limits (Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford)

Oh, the PyeongChang 2018 figure skating dream team – who could forget? We all know the pair skated to Olympic bronze (and a team event gold), but what did it take to get the podium? This short doc by CBC features Duhamel and Radford as they prepared for the PyeongChang Games, with an Olympic medal in mind. The two-time world champions just had one more box to check off to complete the ultimate career and CBC takes you behind the scenes of their training as they battled injury. Watch their inspiring story here to see what it took for them to get gold.

Behind the Scenes of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s Roxanne Choreography

At their final Olympic Games together, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir went out with a bang. The duo became the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history when they skated to their double gold at PyeongChang 2018. Ever wonder what it took to be the best of all time? The documentary gives you an exclusive look into the creation of their iconic Moulin Rouge free dance and how they made it look so elegant and easy. From the concept to the choreography, the two made their program as emotional and perfect as possible. You can find the documentary on CBC Sports YouTube channel.

Vince Carter Effect

He may not be Canadian, but with his contributions to the Toronto Raptors, we’ll make an exception. The Netflix documentary deep dives into Carter’s career with the Raptors in 1998 when he put the team, the city, and the country on the map for basketball fans. The game footage puts us back right into the ‘90s, reliving some of our favourite Raptors memories. Lucky for us, the documentary can be found on Netflix Canada.

Emptying the Tank

The short documentary features Ashley Nichols, a Chippewa MMA fighter. The 10-minute doc details what MMA means to Nichols, who uses the sport as an outlet to celebrate her strength and her spiritual and physical health. You can learn more about Nichols and what it takes to be an MMA fighter on CBC Doc’s YouTube.

ESPN 30 for 30: Into the Wind

Into the Wind – directed by Canadian basketball legend Steve Nash – chronicles the story of Terry Fox and his legacy. Fox is a Canadian legend in his own right, having attempted to run across Canada after his cancer diagnosis resulted in the amputation of his right leg. His mission with the Marathon of Hope was to raise money for cancer research. Little did he know that his fundraising journey would have a lasting impact on Canadians. The documentary recounts his run – starting in St. Johns, Newfoundland – as he completed more than a marathon a day. Fox ultimately needed to stop before he could finish, after discovering the cancer had spread to the rest of his body. This episode of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series can be found on TSN .

The Equalizer

The CBC series tries to parallel current athletes to great ones of the past. The documentary series sheds light on the technological developments in sports that have made athletes stronger and faster than ever. It features athletes like Andre De Grasse and Adam van Koeverden who are compared to greats from their sports’ past, such as Jesse Owens and Gert Fredriksson. Would these recent Canadian stars stack up to some of history’s finest? The series tries to answer that question. You can watch all five-episodes here.

Being: Max Parrot

The Olympic silver medallist snowboarder was used to going downhill, but in 2019 he faced an uphill battle after his Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer diagnosis. The documentary shows Parrot’s unbreakable spirit when he competed at X Games in Oslo, just two months after finishing chemotherapy. Take a look into what it took to go from a hospital bed to the top of the podium. You can find the documentary for free on ESPN.

Ambitions: Emily Batty

In the YouTube documentary series, mountain biker Batty takes you through her Olympic journey at Rio 2016. In the nine webisodes, Batty talks about the highs of making the team to the lows of not performing the way she wanted and the eventual disappointment post Games. The intimate documentary series can be found on her YouTube channel, giving all of us more perspective on what athletes put on the line to reach their dreams.

Calgary ’88 16 Days of Glory

Relive the first Olympic Winter Games hosted in Canada with the official film, directed by renowned documentarian Bud Greenspan. Whether you loved the Battle of the Brians or another great moment, sit back, relax and enjoy some memories and triumphs of the Winter Games. You can find the full documentary on YouTube.

Games of XXI Olympiad

This official film takes us back to when Canada held its very first Olympic Games. From watching the Olympic flame at the Opening Ceremony to Greg Joy’s high jump silver in the rain, this documentary looks at every victory at the Games. Feel the excitement and pride again on the Olympic YouTube channel.