The Pursuit of Excellence Marathon

The Pursuit of Excellence Marathon

Fri, 10/08/2010 - 6:00pm - 10:00pm
Pictured: Competitor Deb Sundstrom with her oversized pumpkin.

Credit: Randy Sundstrom

Join us for a glimpse into three different and obscure subcultures of intense competition.

Mark Lewis’ THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE, a series of one-hour films, celebrating the ambition, determination and passion of those who pursue distinction in slightly unconventional fields. Each film showcases the training and preparation required to be competitive and reveals the surprising, and sometimes heartbreaking, results of that dedication.

Lords of the Gourd: The Pursuit of Excellence airs at 6 p.m. and encores at 9 p.m., Hairworld: The Pursuit of Excellence airs at 7 p.m., and Synchronized Swimming: The Pursuit of Excellence airs at 8 p.m., Friday, October 8 on PBS World (cable 524/DT21.2).

Lords of the Gourd:

The extreme gardeners who compete at the annual Cooperstown Pumpkin Fest weigh-off have one obsessive goal — to raise the biggest giant pumpkin in the world. These gurus of the gourd nurture their fruits through harsh weather, floods, animal attacks and even sabotage to produce glorious pumpkins of gigantic proportion. This program follows Joe Pukos and his fellow competitors through the final harrowing days of harvest and the journey across New York State with the bulging behemoths strapped into the beds of their pick-ups. Pukos is a contender — at least until last-minute rumors circulate that another grower may be set to smash the world record.


They call it the “Hair Olympics.” In Moscow, 300 stylists from more than 40 countries — among them the crack United States team — compete at the International HairWorld Championships for coveted gold, silver and bronze medals in timed tests of hairstyling skill. The competition is a spectacle — vivid sculptures of hair, from peacock blue to flaming red, adorn stunning models in killer heels as the stylists fight for the judges’ attention. This program follows the trainers, competitors and models from Team USA as they embark on months of rigorous training until finally their dreams unfold, hair by hair, on the competition floor.

Synchronized Swimming:

Synchronized Swimming: The Pursuit of Excellence takes viewers beneath the surface of this glamorous sport to reveal the pain, sacrifice and sheer grit necessary to be a champion synchronized swimmer. The film follows two teams of young hopefuls - the fiercely ambitious Santa Clara Aquamaids from California and the spirited underdogs, the Saint Paul Stars of Minnesota - as they put their strength, grace and artistry on the water line at the U.S. Open, the climactic final event of the U.S. synchronized swimming season.

The spectacular routines and polished makeup belie the heavy demands of the sport. These extraordinary athletes must display stamina, teamwork, flexibility, strength, endurance, grace and artistic expression - not to mention the ability to hold one's breath underwater for long periods of time! And don't forget the smile. "You're holding your breath, you're moving your legs, you're doing the splits, you're counting, you're thinking, you're moving and you're not breathing," explains Saint Paul Star Liz Derr. For these future Olympians, the perfect make-up, colorful costumes and those permanent smiles mask the fierce competitive spirit they each need to win.