Wednesday 18 September 2019

Decker and Budd collision a lasting Olympics memory

Collision Course
Collision Course

Book review - Dean Goodison

Sometimes there's a perfect storm, when weeks of hype meets unbelievable drama and it translates into currency. The hype is partly generated by fans' endless chatter about an event but generally it needs mass media attention for a 'showdown' to go into overdrive.

The drama comes from two competitors, be they teams, individuals, groups or whatever, that have built up a rivalry over time, not always competing face to face, but certainly close enough to grab the rival's attention.

Well, Budd versus Decker at the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984 was a turbo-boosted clash eighties-style. It brought together two runners, who had never competed against one another, in a 3,000 metre race that will go down as one of the most dramatic in athletics history.

So dramatic was the clash, that no only does it have its own documentary, but now also its own book. 'Collision Course' could hardly have been more aptly named by author Jason Henderson, delving into the race and everything that surrounded it.

Budd, of course, is Zola Budd, the South African who was barred from entering the Olympics because her apartheid-riddled country was blocked from competing internationally. However, the 'Daily Mail' newspaper had other ideas.

The newspaper discovered that Budd had an English grandfather and set about organising a British passport so she could compete at the Olympics under their flag. It put her on a 'Collision Course' with her idol, Mary Decker.

American golden girl Decker had missed the previous Olympics because of the U.S. boycott but this was supposed to be her time. She was coming in as favourite and holder of most of the world middle distance records.

She was uneasy about her young rival, not believing the hype created in the United Kingdom and not really expecting Budd to be her main danger. The race, that is the basis for this publication, connected the two athletes forever.

All in all it's an okay read. It has a lot of redeeming features and plenty to like about it but there are also negatives. For starters, it's a hard book to get into and that is unfortunately down to the writing style.

The sentences are jolty and don't flow smoothly, especially in the first few chapters. It means some readers might be put off before even getting into the story. Another negative is the way Henderson deals with their careers either side of the big race.

It ends up reading like a list of times and distances which, even for athletics enthusiasts, has to become a bore. Maybe the correct way to go would have been more in-depth information on the big races and glossing over the insignificant stuff.

At a bit over two hundred pages the book is not long by any stretch and the author still manages to get plenty in. The most interesting parts of the publication are the race itself, and the comments from both spectators and those involved directly and indirectly.

The end of the book that deals with the lives of the athletes since they retired is also interesting and gives an insight into what high level performers do after they have retired from competitive action.

This is probably not the book for the average sports fan. It's just not got enough depth and the quality is not on a par with the higher end of the market. For the athletics fan, who might remember this story, yes, you could pick this up. It's not the best, most exciting read you'll ever purchase but it's not the worst either.

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