Monday 22 January 2018

Reading the small print doesn't spoil an excellent effort

Book review

100 Metre Men
100 Metre Men

The recent Olympics, and the current edition of the Paralympics, have led to a spate of publications on athletics hitting the shelves. Why not, it's the one time every four years that the eyes of the entire world decent on a sporting event that's isn't just lads kicking a football around.

Part of the brilliance of the modern Olympics is the choice of viewing available. Eight dedicated channels are offered by the BBC all showing something different. Yet, if you want to stick to the Irish angle, RTE is the place to be, usually.

However, there is one Olympic event that captures the imagination of everyone. The 100 metres final. Who will be 'the fastest man on the planet'. How fast can he go, less than ten seconds of drama, hardly enough time to draw breath.

The essence of what those forty to fifty strides are all about, plus the stories of the guys that were the best in the business, are all contained within Neil Duncanson's informative and chunky publication '100 Metre Men'.

While talking of chunky, one of the great chapters of the publication is on Charley Paddock. The Californian wasn't your typical sprinter, he was a little more rotund, or 'barrel chested' to give him his more politically correct title. However, he was fast, and an interesting character to boot.

But for someone who knows of the great Jesse Owens, but didn't really have an understanding of the whole story, the chapter on the 4-time Olympic champion is absolutely fantastic and gives great insight into the man rather than the myth.

Of particular interest is how Owens' life changed after Athletics, how he didn't exactly buy into the 'Black Power' movement like one might expect and how that affected his standing. The origins of his name 'Jesse' are quite peculiar too.

Towards the end Duncanson considers what the the future might hold for the 'Gold Ribbon' event of the games. How fast can humans go in the future, it's a clever ending that gives a nice soft landing, rather than than what would have been an open-ended finish with Usain Bolt's unfinished career.

The complaints, well it's singular really, the size of the print is much smaller than the current average. It's readable, but it's clear the font was shrunk to take a 5-600 page book and fit it into just 352 jam-packed pages.

Look, it's not the end of the world, it doesn't take away from the fine job the author has done on this book, but it does make reading a little more taxing on the eyes. You'll find that, at times, you might finish a line and then start the wrong one, annoying but not a deal breaker.

But that's the only minor negative, all in all it's a really well written book. Even the picture sections accomplishes something that a lot of those don't, it actually adds to the text and to the stories told within.

Who wants to pick up this publication after the big event. Well the beauty of this book is that you don't need two-plus weeks of sport to follow to validate heading to 'The Book Centre'. The general sports fan could not ask for a better look at the men who have been the fastest in the world.

For the Athletics nut, of course this is a worthwhile purchase. Okay, if you want more in depth information on the big names like Jesse Owens or Usain Bolt there are ample, deeper books to pick up but this is the place for all the other guys, the Bobby Morrow's and the Valeri Borzov's of this world are given equal billing.

Wexford People

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