Return to Rio, or escape into fiction

with Saturday Savings 13.08.2016

MunichIn 1972, the Germans planned a spectacular celebration of sport in an effort to erase the bigotry that blazed in Berlin 36 years earlier . . . but Munich was marred by the terrorist attack on the Israeli athletes and the massacre of hostages and terrorists at the airport afterward.

Richard Mandell, whose history of the 1936 Games was required reading for the organizers (and was featured here a week ago), had access to everything — participants, planners, sites — for three weeks. His The Olympics of 1972: a Munich Diary is a record of his impressions of the aesthetic, political, and athletic dimensions of the spectacle. It’s discounted today to 99 cents.

Mandell urged the organizers to cancel the games, but his diary isn’t aNazi Olympics history of the terrorist attack itself. Many of his observations are about design: the plastic roof that covered acres, the visual Esperanto of color-coded uniforms, the catalogs for the many art exhibitions, the newly devised “pictograms” directing visitors around the Olympic facilities that transformed Munich. Mandell also writes about modern sports equipment and about television and sport. He describes what he learned by watching training fields, saunas, and in the all-you-can-eat cafeterias and listening in on athletes’ conversations in the Olympic Village.

Peter Lovesey not only wrote the Peter Diamond mysteries (which Sis has Kings of Distancebeen reviewing), but he also wrote profiles of five long-distance runners from past Olympics:  The Kings of Distance, which is also on sale for 99 cents today. This history tells the stories of:

Deerfoot the Indian brave who successfully challenged the leading runners of Victorian England. In 1863, he set a record for distance covered in one hour that was only exceeded by a British amateur 90 years later.

George at the age of 19, in 1878, with the solitary distinction of joint first place in a walking race to his credit, announced that he would one day run a mile in 4 minutes 12 seconds, an achievement unbelievable at that time. Eight years later, having improved every world record, he officially attained his ambition in ‘The Mile of the Century’.

Shrubb, ‘The Irrepressible,’ discovered his running ability by accident, and made staggering records in the most unpromising conditions. His historic run in November 1904, created new world records for every distance from six to 11¾ miles.

Nurmi, at the Paris Olympic Games of 1924, achieved the never-to-be-repeated feat of winning both the 15,000 and 5,000 metre races within 1 hour and 20 minutes, and carried off four individual gold medals in the six days.

Zátopek so manifestly set himself apart from other distance runners that reporters named him ‘The Human Locomotive’, describing his races in two categories: one for Zátopek, the other for those who struggled far behind for second place. A strenuous training programme prepared him for the most extraordinary triple victory in the history of the Olympic Games.

BourneNot into the Games?  Well, Jason Bourne is back in theaters, and the first book in Robert Ludlum’s series is on sale, too, at $1.99.  The Bourne Identity is a classic suspense story, and, as fun as the film is, the book is better.

Description: His memory is a blank. His bullet-ridden body was fished from the Mediterranean Sea. His face has been altered by plastic surgery. A frame of microfilm has been surgically implanted in his hip. Even his name is a mystery. Marked for death, he is racing for survival through a bizarre world of murderous conspirators—led by Carlos, the world’s most dangerous assassin. Who is Jason Bourne? The answer may kill him.

The torch burns in Rio

Saturday Savings 06.08.2016 celebrates the games

Olympic LordsReady or not, Rio de Janeiro is aflame with the 2016 Olympic Games. The athletes, and the spectators, have arrived and it’s time to look beyond the accommodations, the displaced, and the threat of Zika to the competition.

It’s also a good time to look back, to past games and past glories. Endeavour Press is discounting two ebooks — one which is really a long essay originally published in 2012 about the three lords who brought the Olympic Games to London, the other , the other about the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin — to help readers get in the mood.

Lords of the Olympics by John Bryant tells the story of the three British Lords who brought the Olympic Games to London, the only city to host them three times.  It’s a short read, 40 or so pages, written by a Fleet Street journalist and lifelong athlete who also coached an Olympian, but it’s only 99 cents (USD) today.

Each of the three brought the games to London in his own way. Each also snatched triumph when the Games faced disaster and crisis.

Lord Desborough, the perfect Edwardian sportsman – cricketer, sculler, fencer and huntsman – masterminded the Games in just two years when a near bankrupt Italy pulled out. He bequeathed the Edwardian concept of “play up, play up and play the game” which was to set the tone of international sport for 70 years.

Lord Burghley stepped in when two great wars ripped the world apart. There were no Olympics in 1940 or 1944, but with just two years to go he demonstrated that the Olympics were about sport and not war. Britain was almost bankrupt, rationing was rife, and bombsites littered the London landscape. But in these make-do-and-mend Olympics, Lord Burghley and the indomitable spirit of London overcame every obstacle.

Lord Coe, one of the greatest middle-distance runners that Britain has ever produced, faced a different problem when he entered the race to bring the Olympics back to London. In a fiercely commercial word everyone wants the Games. He’s had to see off the threats of corrupt and unethical practices, the gift-giving and inflated budgets that have haunted recent bids to secure the Games.

Remember Gabrielle? Grace, Gold, and Glory is the autobiography of the girl Gabbywho stole hearts and made U.S. Olympic history in London during the 2012 games.  It’s a tale of faith, perserverance and determination, from the first U.S. woman’s gymnast to win gold in team and individual events. The ebook is $1.99 (USD) today. Gabrielle began her training at age six, and became the Virginia State Champion only two years later. When she was 14, she left her family in Virginia Beach to train with coach Liang Chow in Des Moines, Iowa. Under Chow’s guidance, and with tremendous faith in God’s plan for her, Gabrielle competed in the Olympic Trials and walked away with the only guaranteed spot on the team. Since her Olympic triumph, Gabrielle has used her platform to inspire millions with a powerful message: With hard work and persistence, any dream is possible.

Nazi OlympicsThe Nazi Olympics by Richard D. Mandell, also 99 cents today, describes the staging of a fantasy-drama that was, in essence, a superbly engineered piece of Nazi “realpolitik.” Over 5,000 athletes from 28 nations fought as political gladiators. Hundreds of pampered foreigners, journalists, businessmen, and diplomats abandoned themselves — and their judgment — to the extravaganza. The Nazis controlled Germany, and they expected the games to prove Aryan supremacy (and all their other bigoted beliefs) to the watching world. It didn’t work out that way, thanks to the athletes:

Jess Owens:  black, beautiful, and innocent.

Helen Stephens: “the fastest woman in the world.”

Kitei Son: a Korean running the marathon under the hated Japanese flag

Helene Mayer: the statuesque, half-Jewish fencing champion who became a “cause célèbre” by competing under the swastika.

Richard D. Mandell (1929-2013) was a professor of history at the University of South Carolina. He was also the author of Sport: A Cultural History, The First Modern Olympics. and The Nazi Olympics

Kindle ebook $9.99 (USD)
Kindle ebook $9.99 (USD)

I anticipated the games by starting The Boys in the Boat, another tale from the 1936 Olympics, but one which is not discounted.  Daniel James Brown recounts an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate times with this improbably and intimate account of nine working-class boys from the American West who showed the world what true grit really means.

It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.