A London dozen: 12 new reads to put the 2012 Summer Olympics into context, starting with the 1,335 pager

It’s not as if you’d have the time to read all 12 cover to cover before the Opening Ceremonies start a week from tonight.
So browse through this selection and see what might intrigue you:

== The repeat gold medalist:

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The book: “The Complete Book of the Olympics: 2012 Edition”

The authors: David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky

The publishing info: Aurum books, $35, 1,335 pages, paperback

Find it: At Powells or Barnes & Noble.

The backgound: Listing the top eight finishers in every Summer Olympic since 1896 isn’t enough to get you a couple inches thick of glorious facts and information.

In praise of his last Summer Olympic book, we wrote “Wallechinsky has done a Herculean job of research on the Olympics and we are the richer,” which he included on the review page of this one. You’re welcome.

Of all the reviews done on the previous eight editions of the series, this one by the Gannett News Service may sum it up best: “It would not be blasphemous to call Wallechinsky’s book the Bible of the Olympics.”

The Santa Monica-based Wallechinsky, vice president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, told us that this version has 134 pages of new material, including adds to pre-2008 articles.

“And although 98 percent of readers might not notice, we have corrected the spellings of many early athletes and added missing accent marks,” he said.


Wallechinsky attended his first Olympics in 1960 in Rome with his father, novelist Irving Wallace, so his love for the Games is more than just a once-every-four-year affair.

You can flip the book open to any section and probably find something you never knew. Go, for instance, to his short history of the Modern Olympics, where he notes the “real hero” of the 1896 Games was Spridon Louis, a 24-year-old Greek shepherd from the village for Amarousion.

“There was no event that the Greek hosts wanted more to win than the 40,000-meter marathon race, which was created to honor the legend of Pheidippides, who allegedly carried the news of the Greek victory at the Battle of Marathon on 490 BC by running from Marathon to Athens. Louis, with 16 other runners, took the lead four kilometers from the Panathenaic Stadium and won by more than seven minutes.”

To that note, on page 138, there’s the list of the top eight, showing Louis won in 2:58:50, ahead of countryman Charilaos Vasilakos (3:06:03). Seven of the top eight finishers were Greek.

By the way, today’s marathon distance: 42,195 meters — or 26 miles, 385 yards. So that first one was a bit short of the mark.

Wallechinsky is already in England to take in the London Games, and paid a visit the other day to the Oxford home of Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four-minute mile in 1954.

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