Controversy, bitter rivalry and unlikely wins have become emblematic of the Olympic Games, this year hosted in Pyeonchang, South Korea. Here are three books that delve into the history of the Games and the sacrifices required of the athletes to win the gold.
A Global History of the Olympics
By David Goldblatt
516 pp. W.W. Norton & Company. (2016)
In this sweeping history of the Olympics, Goldblatt recounts the origin of the Games, first staged by French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin in the late 1800s with the goal of creating a sporting event absent of politics. Goldblatt’s even-paced approach reflects that of a “disciplined distance runner,” wrote our reviewer, adding that “The Games” is “a people’s history of the Olympics.” We learn about how culture and social issues interact with the Games, such as when homeless people living in Atlanta in 1996 were offered free one-way bus tickets to any part of the country where they had family members; or when Jesse Owens, who was African-American, won four gold medals in the 1936 Games, but was snubbed by press below the Mason-Dixon line, who did not publish his photo.
THE BOYS OF WINTER
The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team
By Wayne Coffey
272 pp. Crown Publishers. (2005)
For a literary play-by-play of the hockey game dramatized in the movie “Miracle,” turn to this book, which recounts the United States Olympic Hockey Team’s surprising win over Russia’s in 1980. Even those who have watched the movie will enjoy the book, said our reviewer, which “is far better than the movie at evoking the lives and personalities of the players.” The central character is Herb Brooks, who coached the team to victory, and Coffey argues that, despite his brutal methods, Brooks was precisely the right coach to achieve such an unlikely victory. According to our reviewer, if the team was to have any chance at all, they “needed a maniac in charge, not a nice guy.”
THE SECOND MARK
Courage, Corruption, and the Battle for Olympic Gold
By Joy Goodwin
333 pp. Simon & Schuster. (2004)
This book by a producer for ABC delves into the lives of the three figure skating pairs who competed in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City to explore what it took for them to make it there. There was Yelena Berezhnaya, whose partner, Oleg Shliakhov, physically and emotionally abused her, often locking her in their apartment if he went away. The Chinese figure skating team was coached by Yao Bin, who redeemed himself and the Chinese skating program after years of being viewed as a laughingstock. And the Canadian hopefuls, David Pelletier and Jamie Salé, who slimly lost the gold to the Russians, only to be awarded the medal later after a French judge admitted to having been pressured into her vote by her national skating federation. Goodwin addresses the problem of intimacy between the judges, skaters and national skating establishments to explain why this coercion occurs. Our reviewer, who called Goodwin’s book “masterly,” also wrote: “‘The Second Mark’ can be classed among the rare sportswriting that, with one eye fixed on court or field or rink, manages to tell us something important about the human spirit.”