A London dozen: The book on how to watch it from the wrong side of the road

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The book: “How to Watch the Olympics: The Essential Guide to the Rules, Statistics, Heroes and Zeroes of Every Sport”

The author: David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton

The publishing info: Penguin books, $15, 400 pages, paperback

Find it: At Powells or Barnes & Noble

The background: Goldblatt, a sports columnists who reports for BBC Radio and did the book, “The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Soccer,” is London-based, as is Acton, a former journalist at the London Times.

From the intro: “If we’re honest, there’s a gaping hole at the heart of the Olympic experience: Most of us know remarkably little about most of the sports we’ve suddenly gone nuts about. Of course, you could just plonk yourself down on a sofa and keep your eyes open. No harm in any of that, but to get the most out of the Olympics it really helps to know how to watch the proceedings. Which is where this book comes in: a training programme for the Olympics, or, to be precise, a five-point plan of crucial need-to-know information for each sport.”

The five points: Why watch the event? What’s the story behind it? What are the basics? What are the finer points? When did it become an Olympic sport?

Page 82, under “Why watch basketball?” they write: “If you have got tickets and are in two minds about going, call us and we’ll work something out.”

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A London dozen: Go ahead, pretend it’s real

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The book: “The Treasures of the Olympic Games: An Interactive History of the Olympic Games”

The author: The Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland

The publishing info: Carlton Books, 64 pages, $50

Find it: At Barnes & Noble.

The background: We’re a sucker for these kind of things — facsimilies of rare histocial documents from the museum’s archive.

Aside from photographs, there are 20 tangable moments to try to relive, such as a police report detailing the terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and a flame bearer’s guide.

Add to that a DVD featuring Jesse Owens and Bob Beamon.

Find even more at the museum’s website: http://www.olympic.org/museum

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A London dozen books: Look into Amanda’s eyes

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The book: “In The Water, They Can’t See You Cry: A Memoir”

The author: Amanda Beard with Rebecca Paley

The publishing info: Touchstone, $24.99, 248 pages

Find it: At Powells or Barnes & Noble.

The background: The seven-time Olympic medal-winning swimmer lives with husband Sacha and son Blaise in Tucson. At one point, she was the most downloaded athlete on the Internet. But she says she felt unworthy.

Depressed, she became more self-destructive, cutting herself, using drugs and becoming bulimic.

Pages 133-134: “I liked to cut across my arm in the meaty section between my elbow and wrist. Sometimes I did one little slice, sometimes three or four in a row. It varied. There was never any thinking, just instinct. After I’d finished, I took it all in, allowing myself to breathe and enjoy the clear-headedness that dried up the darkness sloshing around and threatening to drown me from the inside. I always left the bathroom feeling better than when I entered it …

“I fell into my own dark world where I cut myself every day for three straight days. I was so enraged, it came to a point where I couldn’t be near (her boyfriend, Ryk) without wanting to take a blade to my arm. I felt emotionally and physically sick … I got my cutting spiral under control not only because I didn’t want to hurt myself; I also didn’t want anyone finding out my secret. …

“Being in a swimsuit all the time made hiding my habit harder. When I still used tweezers, people were naturally curious about the scratch when I arrived at swim practice. There was no way I could ever tell the truth. What happened to your arm? Oh, I scratched it because it feels good to me. I knew that was crazy talk and didn’t want to get close to having a conversation like that. So instead, I blamed the cuts on my rough and tumble lifestyle. I was mountain biking and a twig scratched me. Or a dog did it. I was playing rugby with Ryk. People didn’t think twice about it. I had fooled everyone again. Just like my purging. I kept my cutting a controlled secret.”

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A London dozen books: Shawn Johnson stays on balance with the other stuff

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The book: “Winning Balance: What I’ve Learned so far about Love, Faith and Living Your Dreams”

The author: Shawn Johnson with Nancy French

The publishing info: Tyndale House, $19.99, 254 pages

Find it: At Powells and Barnes & Noble

The background: From the publishing house that gave us Tony Dungy’s “Quiet Strength,” “Uncommon” and “The Mentor Leader,” and other athlete-motivation books comes this one from the 2008 silver medal gymnast.

“Over the past five years, many articles have been written about me,” she says in the intro. “Most journalists have gotten the details right, though only a few seem to have truly captured something about who I am as a person, not simply as a gymnast. That’s understandable, since most reporters have been assigned to cover a specific event or to give readers a status report on my training.

“I wrote ‘Winning Balance’ as a way to go deeper. … It is not an autobiography. Instead, I wrote this book as a way to reflect on the lesions I’ve learned during nearly two decades of training, competition and most important, every day life.”

Then there’s Chapter 15 entitled “Do Not Make Bob Costas Angry,” although that’s never really explained if someone told her that, or she had thought in her head as the NBC anchor interviewed her after the team won the silver medal.

” ‘How did your parents react when you first saw them after winning the medal?’ (Costas) asked after noticing the other gymnasts with their parents.

“‘I actually haven’t had a chance to see them,’ I replied, hiding the pain under my cheerful-sounding answer.

“I though I saw a flash of anger in his eyes though we were on camera. Here I was, this young girl going through the most spiritually taxing moment in my life, and the organizers hadn’t even bothered to help me find my mom and dad.

“During a commercial break, he took me aside. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said very kindly. ‘I’ll help you find your parents.’ … It was one of the most compassionate things anyone has ever done for me. And I’ll never forget Costas’s kindness.” (page 110).

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A London dozen books: Moceanu keeps us off balance

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The book: “Off Balance: A Memoir”

The author: Dominique Moceanu, with Paul and Teri Williams

The publishing info: Touchstone/Simon and Shuster, 242 pages, $24.95

Find it: At Powells or Barnes & Noble

The background: She lives these days with her husband and two children in Cleveland, 18 years after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where, as a 14-year old, she was on the U.S. gold-medal winning team.

“When you have traveled the world, won Olympic gold, and gone through a very public court battle against your parents all by the age of seventeen, surprises don’t come easily. Discovering my sister Jennifer though – that was a surprise,” from Chapter 1, paragraph one, describing how she received a letter revealing a sister she didn’t know she had, given away at birth because she had no legs.

“As a competitive gymnast, my life has always been filled with challenges that would ultimately define my future. From day one, I was taught to be prepared at all costs. And yet, pulling into the post office parking lot that day, I couldn’t have been more unarmed, unguarded.”

Her Romanian immigrant parents went to the U.S. to provide her with a better life. Except they hadn’t told her everything about a sister, both six years and one day apart from her.

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It’s Out of the Question: Aw, Howard’s a wise guy, eh?

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We had a dream last night where we were watching the Cartoon Network, and there was Moe, Curly and Dwight Howard slapping each other with rolled up sheets of paper – perhaps, pieces of an NBA contract – while in a Dodger Stadium luxury suite.

One of them — the real tall one — ended up on the video board smiling next to his girlfriend, supposedly as a guest of a Dodgers co-owner with some kind of ties to the Lakers.

Can we assume Dwight Howard isn’t such a stooge that he knows the Dodgers don’t play in his destination dream spot of Brooklyn anymore?

According to a website called RealGM.com, he’s going to sign a contract extension and come to L.A. any day now.

According to Howard’s agent, speaking to anyone still listening, that’s not happening.

Where is Jim Gray when you need a long-winded decision to finally reach some kind of closure?

The heart of the matter always seems to go back to where Howard’s heart lies here.

The only thing that makes sense anymore is a post Friday on the Wall Street Journal, of all sports websites, where a Mad Lib format was created: “The All-Star center recent went to a (blank) where the crowd (blank) and he felt (blank).”

This storyline isn’t a blank slate any more. The D-Ho-to-Hollywood drama will reach a climax. Some how. Some day.

We’re just waiting when we ask a real GM what’s going on. Meaning, where’s Jerry West when the Lakers need a Shaq-like deal closed?

Continue reading

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A London dozen books: A real chace for gold, by an American cyclist known as ‘The Blade’

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The book: “The Price of Gold: The Toll and the Triumph of One Man’s Olympic Dream”

The author: Marty Nothstein, with Ian Dille

The publishing info: Rodale, $25.99, 218 pages

Find it: At Powells or Barnes & Noble.

The background: “The Blade” won gold at the Sydney Olympics and silver in Atlanta in cycling. He lives today with his wife and two children in Trexlertown, Penn., executive director of the velodrome where he started his career.

Maybe you recall after he won in Sydney, he grabbed his 5-year-old son, Tyler, onto his bike for a victory lap.

How did he get there?

Chapter one, paragraph one: “I’m 25 years old when I arrived in Atlanta for the 1996 Olympic Games. I’m a world-class track cyclist at the peak of my physical prowess. I stand 6-foot-2 inches and weigh 225 pounds. My quads measure 30 inches around, the size of a normal cyclist’s waistline. My shoulders, biceps and chest appear Herculean in proportion to the svelte carbon-fiber bike I race. In the weight room, I squat more than 500 pounds. In training, my explosive sprint, which tops out near 50 miles per hour, frequently demolishes bicycle parts.

“I twist handlebars into pretzels and fold chain rings like pancakes. I turn wheels into tacos. I’ve taught the millions of muscle fibers in my legs to fire, so that I may ride a bike faster than any human on the planet. The event in which I specializes, matching sprinting, is the equivalent to the 100-meter dash, but on bikes. Two racers go head to head on the track over three laps, the last 200 meters of which is timed. The first across the line moves on to the next round of the sprint tournament. The loser goes home. The gold medalist in the Olympic match sprint is considered the fastest cyclist in the world.”

From the first sentence of Part 2, Chapter 8, page 117: “I didn’t go to Atlanta for the silver. I get home and am single-minded about getting back on track, back to number one.”

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A London dozen books: A ficticious chase for gold between English cyclists

UPDATED: 07.22.12

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The book: “Gold”

The author: Chris Cleave

The publishing info: Simon & Shuster, 336 pages, $27

Find it: At Powells or Barnes & Noble

The background: We were enticed by a short review in a recent Sports Illustrated that ended: “Cleave’s fine novel will give you an appreciation for all that London’s Olympians have gone through as you watch them contort their bodies, leap for the heavens or pedal round and round and round.”

Cleave’s third novel, following up on the New York Times best-seller “Little Bee,” is focused on 32-year-old British cyclists Zoe Castle and Kate Meadows, who have been friends and rivals for 13 years and go into their final Olympics competition – but the IOC says only one will be eligible.

Kate is married to fellow racer, Jack Argall, and they have an 8-year-old daughter, Sophie, battling leukemia.

Sacrifices and determination are the underlying thread to how this reaches its poetic climax.

Other reviews of it we’ve come across have been mixed. Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum gave it a “C+” because “the drama . . . is so swollen, adn the writing so pumped up with ‘style,’ that the sentences tehmselves begin to get in the way of the story’s momentum — their showiness become an aerodynamic drag.’ Also, using a child’s bout with leukemia as a “tear-jerking distraction” didn’t go over well. (review linked here)

In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times’ book review section, Carolyn Kellogg wrote that part of the problem is that Cleave “doesn’t have enough characters to fill his stage . . . it’s unusual for a novel of this size to have such a scarcity of texture.” (review linked here).

Yet, if covers make a difference, Cleave’s books always make for some fine art posters.

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A London dozen: Rewind a couple of weeks ago, to Bryan Clay’s 12th place at the decathlon trials

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The book: “Redemption: A Rebellious Spirit, A Praying Mother and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold”

The author: Bryan Clay with Joel Kilpatrick

The publishing info: Thomas Nelson Books, 249 pages, $24.99

Find it: At Powells or Barnes & Noble.

The background: Unfortunately, the Glendora resident and Azusa Pacific grad who won the decathlon by a huge margin at Beijing in 2008 and took silver in ’04 didn’t make it to the ’12 Games. He tripped over a barrier in the 110 meter hurdles the Olympic Trials in Oregon last month and thought he’d been DQ’d. Mentally out of it as he did his best event, the discus, he fouled on a throw and ended with a 12th-place finish.

But that hardly makes his life story any less relevant.

The son of an African-American dad who divorced his Japanese mom when he was five, Clay spent most of his youth in Hawaii, influenced by his Asian culture as well as Christian music. The born-again Christian focuses his book on how his faith turned him from an angry teenager who tried to pick fights and smoked pot into a Olympic champ.

The way he handled the disappointment at the ’12 Trials speaks to his character: “Anytime a decathlon goes bad, I think the athlete wants to pick up his stuff and walk off the track. It was everything I had to keep going. I’ve been working a long time to come out and put something together. There was a lot of hope and expectation there. When you see it all go out the window, it’s pretty disappointing, so it was important to finish. I didn’t want to finish. My coaches, thank goodness, made me finish. For my wife and kids, I had to finish. My kids were in the stands screaming. My nieces were here. . . .I want to be the best role model I can be. The last thing you want to do is quit at something. . . . We’ll come out next year. There’s always another team to be made.”

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A London dozen books: Rewind 40 years ago, and the messiness of Munich

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The book: “Munich 1972: Tragedy, Terror and Triumph at the Olympic Games”

The author: David Clay Large

The publishing info: Rowman & Littlefield, $29.95, 372 pages

Find it: At Powells or Barnes & Noble

The background: Large is a professor of history at Montana State, author of several history books including “Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936.” He draws on new sources to look back at the moment best remembered as the site where Israeli Olympians were abducted by Palestine terrorists and a botched rescue mission led to tragedy.

You really want to relive all this again? Only if there’s better perspective.

Page 246: “Not surprisingly, America’s Olga Connolly, the feisty political activist who had smuggled peace buttons into the Olympic Village, was appalled by the decision to play on (after the 11 deaths). In the wake of (IOC President Avery) Brundage’s announcement, she declared, ‘It seems incredible that after the terrible tragedy of the past few days, in which our brothers, 11 Olympic athletes, were killed, we are kept at the level of playing Ping-Pong.’

“For Connolly, Brundage’s ‘Games Must Go On’ dictum was just one more demonstration of the moral and political bankruptcy of the Olympic momentum. “Olympic officials speak the words of brotherhood and peace, but this I only political mouthwash,” she complained. ‘When you see it from the inside, you are disgusted to see that the Games, a kind of Circus Maximus, are not conducted for anything else but commercialism, medal counts and political profit.’ “

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