Jimmy Chin Wants to Show You What Being an Elite Athlete Is Really Like


in 2018, when free solo Busy breaking box office records and mind-blowing, Jimmy Chin—who shot the film and directed it with his wife and collaborator Elizabeth “Chai” Vasarely—was getting pretty much the same question: Alex Honnold not paralyzed by fear. Was it because he was stuck in the face of El Capitan without a rope? Some wondered aloud whether he was simply not fearless.

Before becoming an Oscar-winning filmmaker, Chin enjoyed a decades-long career as an alpinist, rock climber, backcountry skier, and photographer. He knew that the answer to this question was that fear is always present for those who risk it in the most dramatic and ruthless environments. However, this was hard to explain in passing conversations where most of us now find our outdoor adventure content. The minute-long videos on social media deliver adrenaline and triumph, but aren’t nearly as long or nuanced to capture the desire and craft that best enables us to communicate with our fears, and put it all on the line. goes .

Chin and Vasarely’s New National Geographic Series Age of the Unknown with Jimmy ChinaHer first foray into television, which premiered last week on Disney+—is to pierce that veil. “It’s a series that I’ve always wanted to show people to understand what it means to be a truly elite athlete in this field,” Chin said during an interview prior to the show’s release. “The level of passion and commitment, the purpose and meaning sports give to each of these individuals. Because after all, they are all looking for this kind of transcendent experience, but there are two sides to it.”

edge of the unknown That’s about the B-side. In each of the ten episodes (which were released all at once), Chin and Vasarely train their lenses on one or a small group of elite athletes, but with their most spectacular failures and near-misses. Let’s do away with your biggest win in favor. Polar bears and crocodiles attack. Bones are broken. mind is blown. Heart stops beating.

Some athletes are more famous than others. Most people reading this will know snowboarder Travis Rice, Big Wave surfer Justin DuPont, Big Mountain skier Angel Collinson, ice and rock climber Will Gad, and legendary alpinist Conrad Anker. There is also Honnold. But so are big-drop kayaker Gerd Cerasols and young polar explorers Sarah and Eric McNair Landry.

Justin Dupont (Photo: Courtesy Justin DuPont)

If you watched 2015 meru– A chronicle of Chin, anchor, and photographer Rennan Ozturk’s first ascent of a shark’s fin on Mount Meru in the Indian Himalayas – You may recall that Chin was once missing himself in a terrifying pass, running away from an avalanche Was that on film it seemed impossible to survive. Chin delves much deeper into that story for the eighth episode of the series, the aptly named “Live Another Day”.

Interviews are intimate and often emotional. That’s in part because when adventure athletes talk to Jimmy Chin about their darkest moments on camera, they cringe. “I think my understanding of these athletes is a little more acute than someone who is trying to tell a story from the outside,” says Chin. “I think they trusted us with these stories because they knew we would be sensitive and understanding about what they told.”

None of these stories are particularly new. if you are one out As long as I have a readership (or even half as long), watching this show is like paging through past issues. There are moments when it seems as though Chin is reusing material from his archives (didn’t we see Honnold climbing in Morocco? free solo?), although the intention here is not just to satisfy core fans, but to entertain a more mainstream audience who may not know or care. Plus, the stories are instant classics; Human dramas that keep you hooked, and ignite your thirst for adventure. Not because athletes appear fearless or invincible, but because you see them as survivors. They are not social media avatars. They are ornate humans, nervous, and inches away from death. And yet, they emerge touching, but not undone by what they do.

“They live with deep intentions,” says Chin. “That’s the other thing that I think people don’t necessarily understand about these athletes. They live with deep intent because their lives are at stake in what they do. They have to push it every day more and more.” Every moment has to be decided.”

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