Monday, August 18, 2008

NonFiction Monday: Swifter, Higher, Stronger

Dewey: 796.48

Swifter, Higher, Stronger: a photographic history of the Summer Olympics
by Sue Macy, National Geographic, 2008

It is fitting that the cover for this comprehensive and engaging history of the Summer Olympics features a straight-on photograph of Michael Phelps, striking across the surface of the pool, towards the camera. The moment captures his energy and speed as the water, churned up in his wake, hangs in the air around him.

As I listened to Phelps in his interviews with Bob Costas this week, I was struck by his determination, his disciplined answers and his genuine joy in this Olympic experience. Last night, his mother, a school principal, talked candidly about her son's ADHD and how swimming was such a positive way to channel his creativity and energy. She recalled the bullying and teasing he received as a child (we mothers bears NEVER EVER forget) and other challenges he had to overcome. I am looking forward to the forthcoming biographies about Phelps which will no doubt soon grace the shelves of school libraries everywhere. His story is one kids will identify with. I pray, that in light of this record medal success, he can keep his head on straight and spirit together.

Costas provides the foreward for this book, noting,
"It's hard to find an atheletic honor geater than Olympic champion. Still many competitors take to the track, or pool, or court, with no chance of earning a medal. They find fulfillment in representing their nation in challenging themselves against the best, in exceeding their personal records, in experiencing a moment for which they waited four years or more."

The book covers the games from 1896 through the 2004 games in Athens. A snapshot of each Olympiad is included at the end, including a look forward to the Beijing games and the 30th Olympiad in London.

Jim Thorpe, Mark Spitz, Wilma Rudolph, Nadia Comaneci are well known names in Olympic lore and their stories are related. The lesser known Esther Kim who earned the Fair Play trophy after giving up her spot on the tae kwon do team to a rival is also highlighted.

The troubles and controversies surrounding the games are addressed. The murder of the Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists during the 1072 Munich games is illustrated by the well known photograph of the masked face on the balcony. Macy relates President Carter's boycott of the Moscow games, the bomb explosion in Atlanta and the ongoing need for drug testing as testament to the larger role the Olympics play in world politics.

This book will find an audience with young people who are enjoying the games now and are intrigued with the traditions and history of the events. No doubt, many watching these games are preparing for the Olympic games of the future.

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