Thursday, August 4, 2016

Review of "Olympic Collision"

On the eve of the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics, it is only appropriate to post a review of a book on the Olympics.  This book about one of the most famous moments in the history of the Games is one that I was highly anticipating ever since I saw it in the fall/winter catalog of the University of Nebraska Press.  So, as soon as an advance review copy became available, I picked one up and the book did not disappoint.  Here is my review of "Olympic Collision". 

“Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd” by Kyle Keiderling

Summer Olympics, running, history, race, politics

Publish date:
November 1, 2016

368 pages

5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

One of the most memorable moments in modern Olympics history occurred in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. In front of more than 90,000 raucous fans, America’s sweetheart of those games, Mary Decker, was the favorite to win the gold medal in the women’s 3000-meter race. One runner who posed a serious threat to Decker’s chance at gold was nineteen-year-old Zola Budd, a native of South Africa who was representing Great Britain. During the finals, the two runners collided and tumbled to the ground, ending the race for both of them and leaving a famous image of Decker wailing in physical and emotional pain.

The stories of these two runners, who took very different paths to that fateful moment, are captured in this outstanding book by Kyle Keiderling. Through exhaustive research and interviews with many people who worked with or were close to both runners, Keiderling’s writing will take the reader not only to the Los Angeles Coliseum on that fateful day, but also brings the reader behind the scenes during each runner’s training, family life and their careers after the 1984 Olympics. It is written in an easy to read, entertaining style that brings each runner to life.

The public perception of the two runners in the immediate aftermath of their collision was sympathetic to Budd and critical of Decker. I found the book to have a similar pattern, as Decker is portrayed throughout the book as a difficult person, both privately and publicly. Interestingly enough, in the acknowledgement section, Keiderling mentions that Decker refused to acknowledge requests for interviews. This is not to be critical of the author for any criticism that may be written about Decker as any opinions expressed by those involved in her life were supported by actions or facts given.   In fact, I found this to be an excellent illustration of why the public perception of Decker was less than favorable.

However, Budd (now Zola Pieterse) was very cooperative and gave the author so much information about her difficulties during the early 1980’s. Budd unwillingly became a symbol of South Africa’s apartheid political system.  Her move to Great Britain to run for that nation was orchestrated by a London newspaper and her father, from whom she later became estranged. Through all this, Keiderling paints a more sympathetic picture of Budd, who many times before and after the Olympics simply stated that she just wanted to run.

There are also significant passages about specific training methods for runners, the allegations of the use of performance enhancing drugs by not only athletes from communist countries at the time but also by Decker, and the South African system of apartheid and what protesters and international athletic associations felt about Budd’s citizenship in Great Britain. This information is important toward understanding the complex lives of both women.

The stories of these two female runners and the one moment that will link the two of them together forever make for a great read.  Any reader who wants to learn more about these outstanding athletes or the inside world of the Olympics and running will want to add this page-turner to his or her library.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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