This is the weekly column on book reviews by Stuart Weir.
Four books take us through the 1980s.
Collision course, Jason Henderson, Edinburgh Arena Sport, 2016. ISBN: 9781909715363
Inside Track, Carl Lewis, Pelham 1990 ISBN 0 7474 0662 6
Kriss Akabusi on Track, Ted Harrison, Oxford, Lion, 1991 ISBN0732405319
Kriss, Stuart Weir, Marshall Pickering (Harper Collins), 1996 ISBN0551030291
Running my life, Seb Coe, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 2012. ISBN 978-1-444-73252 8
The sub-title is “The Olympic tragedy of Mary Decker and Zola Budd”. A well-researched book tells the story of each athlete in the build-up to 1984, the tragic race itself and what happened to each of them afterwards.
The account of Budd’s early running in South Africa, the process of her coming to UK, getting a British passport and competing for GB in 1984 is one of the strongest parts of the book.
Henderson’s ironic summary of the Olympic final is that Mary and Zola “achieved more fame and fortune for their collision in the Coliseum than the athletes who made the actual podium in the women’s 3000m at the 1984 Games. It is ironic. Some would go as far as to call it an injustice”.
The one-two-three of Maricica Puica, Wendy Sly and Lynn Williams were largely ignored by the media. Silver medallist Wendy Sly, is quoted: “The most hurtful thing at the time was when I came off the track in LA and the first question was, ‘did you see what happened?’ No one said ‘well done’ after I’d run 8:39 to win silver.”
The author’s assessment of the two athletes is fascinating: “As for their relative running abilities, Zola was undoubtedly a fantastic runner who won two world cross country titles and set world records during her prodigious and primarily teenage years. She hit her peak aged eighteen and arguably never fulfilled her true potential…Mary, though, was a class apart and is, in my view, quite simply the most talented female middle-distance runner who has ever lived. It is hard to think of a more injury-prone athlete than the American, but she built up an incredible collection of national and world records, won world titles in memorable style and it is a travesty she did not win Olympic gold”.
An excellent book offering real insights into an iconic race in Olympic track history.
Carl Lewis is an enigma. Winner of nine Olympic gold medals, four-time Olympic long-jump winner. He was a supreme talent but not universally popular. Written with the prize-winning journalist, Jeffrey Marx, the book is more revealing than most autobiographies but still leaves the reader with unanswered questions.
Kriss Akabusi on Track
Kriss Akabusi won a 4 by 400 relay medal at 1984 Olympics. However, by 1986 European championships, Kriss had become convinced that he did not have the basic speed to make it as a world-class 400 flat runner. He also noticed that while Britain took first and fourth in the 400 flat, seventh in the semi-final was the best performance in the 400 hurdles. Kriss approached Mike Whittingham, a hurdles coach, and asked him if he thought he could turn him into a world-class hurdler. Whittingham said “yes” but it might take 4 years and that they should target the 1990 European Championships.
In fact, Kriss made the final of the 1987 World Championships and the 1988 Olympics. Sure enough he won the 1990 Europeans as he was supposed to, following that with bronze medals in the World and Olympic finals in 1991 and 1992.
Kriss Akabusi on Track tells the story of the boy from the children’s home, who took up, athletics only because he was ordered to in the army, but went on to become a world class hurdler.
The flaw in Ted Harrison’s excellent biography of Kriss Akabusi is that the author was not really interested in athletics
A book by Seb Coe is a must for anyone interested in the 2012 Olympics. “Running my life” does not disappoint, giving unique insights into the games from the person who knows the whole story. The most surprising thing for me was that we are 300 pages into the book before we get there!
That is a reminder of what a busy life (or lives) that Seb Coe had led. The book covers his early life as he develops his talent. Then there is his account of his elite career including the triumphant 1980 and 1984 Olympics and the rivalry with Steve Ovett. Two quotes on Moscow give a great insight into the mind of the elite athlete. On coming second in the 800 metres, he wrote: “I hadn’t given up ten or twelve years of my life to come second in an Olympic final and that’s precisely what I had done”
Winning the Olympics was summed up: “In a strange way, it was just like I’d felt after getting my degree. I had done it and I would never have to do it again”.
The account of the successful London 2012 bid is undoubtedly the most interesting part of the book, telling the inside story which only he knows, culminating in the decision to award the games to London. Then we read of the process of delivering the games and his role in that too. One point of detail that sticks in my mind is Coe’s argument for using Greenwich for equestrian events to give local children chance to see them.
A great insight into the man.