Tag: Olympics

The “Best of” 2016 Olympic Swimming (plus a short reading update & triathlon race recap)

August 15, 2016 It's Monday! What are you reading? 23

I spent most of last week watching the Olympics instead of reading, so I figured it was appropriate to shift the focus of this week’s It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? post. I did finish Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney, which wasn’t too mentally taxing (and was exactly what I needed last week). And, because I’m getting swept up in all things Olympics, I started listening to 1996 Olympic gold medal gymnast Dominique Moceanu’s memoir, Off Balance. Finally, a friend gave me a copy of You Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg, which got me to tear up in the first fifty pages. I’ll be reading this one in bits and pieces over the next week or so.

West Point Triathlon Race Recap:
I competed in the West Point Sprint Triathlon (1/2 mile swim, 13.9 mile bike, 5K run) on Sunday and it was a brutal day for racing! High of 95 and 95% humidity, plus an [8:40] AM start time (relatively late). Prior to seeing the weather forecast, my goals were to beat my time from this race last year ([1:34:46]) and to finish in the top 3 in my age group (vs. 4th last year). The swim went well, the bike went OK (but was a little slower than last year) and the run was horrifically painful and terrible. I walked four times during the run (basically every time I felt like I was going to throw up) and finished with a 5K split of [29:31] ([2:15] slower than last year). So, you can imagine my surprise when I saw my overall results and realized I’d done a best time of [1:33:35] (4th in my age group)! Turns out I’d shaved 4 minutes off my swim, which saved my overall race. I didn’t finish in the top 3 as I’d hoped, but I’m thrilled with a PR in those steamy conditions!

Best of 2016 Olympic Swimming

Now, on to what I really spent my time doing last week. Overall, the US Swim Team far surpassed expectations going into Rio. The team was fairly young and many swimmers were first-time Olympians. And, it was these rookies that really stole the show (well, as much as it’s possible to steal the show from Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps). Also, Australian swimmers didn’t perform as well as expected, particularly favorites Emily Seebohm, the Campbell sisters, and Mitch Larkin. This recap is fairly US centric for a few reasons: A) US swimmers kind of dominated (33 medals vs. 2nd place Australia’s 10 medals) B) I know the most about US swimmers and C) NBC’s coverage and interviews are extremely US centric.

The “Best of” 2016 Olympic Swimming

The Performances

Biggest Upset
Women Winner:
Simone Manuel (USA) upsetting the heavily favored Campbell sisters (AUS) to tie Penny Oleksiak (CAN) for gold in the women’s 100 freestyle, in the process becoming the first African American to win an individual Olympic swimming medal. Prior to the Rio Games, Manual was ranked 9th in the world in this event.

Women Honorable Mention: Maya Dirado (USA) upsetting “Iron Lady” Katinka Hosszu (HUN) in the women’s 200 backstroke. Prior to the Olympics, Dirado was ranked 4th in the world in this event.
Men: Joseph Schooling (SIN) winning gold in the men’s 100 butterfly over Michael Phelps (USA) and Laszlo Cseh (HUN). Prior to the Olympics, Schooling was ranked only 13th in the world in this event.

Breakthrough Performance
Kathleen Baker (USA) wins silver in the women’s 100 backstroke after being ranked 8th in the world pre-Olympics.

Men: Ryan Murphy (USA) wins gold in the 100 and 200 backstroke in his first Olympics. He also broke the 100 backstroke world record in his lead-off leg of the gold medal winning men’s 4×100 medley relay.

Most Awe-Inspiring Performance
Dana Vollmer’s (USA)
bronze medal in the women’s 100 butterfly (plus a relay silver and gold) just 18 months after having a baby.

Most Dominant Swimmer
Katie Ledecky (USA):
I mean, no one is even close. She might even be the most dominant athlete at these Games in any sport, male or female!

Best Race
Katie Ledecky (USA) vs. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) in the women’s 200 freestyle.

Men: Michael Phelps vs. Masato Sakai (JPN) vs. Tamás Kenderesi (HUN) in the men’s 200 butterfly. Only 0.26 seconds separated Phelps with the gold from Kenderesi with the bronze.

The “Who?” Winner
Dmitriy Balandin (Kazakhstan): Gold Medalist in the men’s 200 breaststroke out of Lane 8, to which NBC Commentator Rowdy Gaines stated “I’ve never circled that lane before!”

Biggest Heartbreaker
Missy Franklin (USA)
failing to make the finals in both her individual events (women’s 200 freestyle and backstroke).

The Dara Torres “Age Is Just A Number” Performance Award
Anthony Ervin (USA):
Won his second gold in the men’s 50 freestyle sixteen years after winning his first at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The Reactions

Best Reaction
 Simone Manuel (USA) after tying for gold in the women’s 100 freestyle and becoming the first African American woman to win an individual Olympic swimming medal.

Men: First-time Olympian Cody Miller (USA) after winning bronze in the men’s 100 breaststroke.

Most Obnoxious Reaction
Katinka Hosszu (HUN)
 pointing at herself while sitting on the lane line after her world record setting performance in the women’s 400 I.M. (and her husband simultaneously pounding his chest on the pool deck).

Best Show of Tears
Ryan Held (USA):
the First-time Olympian sobbed on the medal stand after winning gold in the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay.

Best Interview
Lilly King (USA)
calls out Yulia Efimova (RUS) for doping violations, causing the IOC to essentially ask athletes not to comment on the doping scandal. Thankfully, King and NBC Commentator Rowdy Gaines chose not to keep quiet.

“If you’re shaking your finger number one and you’ve been caught for drug cheating, I’m just not a fan.” – Lilly King

The Drama

Best Rivalry
Michael Phelps (defending Olympic gold medalist) and Ryan Lochte (world record holder) in the men’s 200 IM:
These two combine for the 15 fastest times in history in this event, so this is a nod to the longevity of this rivalry.

Most Hyped Rivalry That Wasn’t A Rivalry
Michael Phelps vs. Chad Le Clos in the men’s 200 butterfly:
After Le Clos out-touched Phelps for gold in London and talked trash in the media over the past four years, Phelps wins gold while Le Clos fails to medal.

Biggest Choke
Emily Seebohm (AUS):
Coming into Rio with the fastest time in the world this year in the women’s 100 backstroke, she finished a disappointing 7th place.

*You may be wondering why Missy Franklin doesn’t occupy this spot…and it’s because she hasn’t looked like her old self for the past two years and barely made the U.S. team at Trials. Conversely, Seebohm has looked fantastic all year until these Games.

Best Recovery from a Choke
Katinka Hosszu (HUN):
After failing to medal in a single event at the London 2012 Games, she wins three golds (200 and 400 IM, 100 backstroke) and a silver (200 backstroke) in Rio.

Most Intriguing Scandal
Katinka Hosszu’s marriage/coaching relationship:
 NBC Commentator Dan Hicks brought this issue to the forefront with his comment crediting Shane Tulup (Hosszu’s husband) with being “responsible” for her turnaround following the London Olympics. There is more to this story. Former friends of Hosszu’s have spoken out about the unhealthy nature of her marriage and coaching relationship with Tulup (you can read more about this here and here). I don’t think this one is over and will be interested to see where she is four years from now.

The Superficial

Camille Lacourt (FRA)

Female: Pernille Blume (DEN), gold medalist in women’s 50 freestyle

Prenille Blume, Camille Lacourt

Best Nail Color

Missy Franklin
(the top hand below)

Missy Franklin nails

Cutest Personality

Adam Peaty (GBR):
After winning gold and breaking his own world record in the men’s 100 breaststroke, Peaty gave an adorable and humble interview to NBC poolside commentator Michele Tafoya.

Weirdest Ready Room Routine
Chad Le Clos
 (RSA) shadow boxing and weirdly vibrating his shoulders.

Most Intimidating Face
Michael Phelps’
reaction to Chad Le Clos’s weird ready room routine, which has since inspired countless internet memes.

Michael Phelps, Phelpsface
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Three Favorite 2016 Summer Reads: Siracusa, The Hopefuls, and You Will Know Me

August 11, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 29

In July, I had a reading streak of absolutely perfect light reads that would be great for vacation. All these books will be going on my 2016 Summer Reading Guide.

Siracusa, Delia EphronSiracusa by Delia Ephron
Fiction (Released July 12, 2016)
304 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Blue Rider Press) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: Relationships are put to the test when two couples (and one couple’s somewhat odd daughter) vacation together in Italy.

My Thoughts: Siracusa might be my favorite vacation-type read so far this year! It’s light and fast-moving, but also smartly written. The story is told from each of the four adults’ perspectives and the writing style shifts with each voice. Going into the trip, both marriages had their own issues, with each spouse frequently mocking his/her partner. As the trip takes on a somewhat surreal quality, everyone starts acting out…refusing to hide their pent-up resentments any longer. Ephron generates suspense by dropping little hints about innocuous moments that later take on greater meaning…contributing to the feeling that things are eventually going to combust.

Beyond the story itself, the characters’ musings on everything from marriage and cheating to travel and the writer’s life allowed Ephron’s writing to shine and kicked this book a notch above other vacation reads for me.

I must have understood more than I realized, how fragile things between us were. Now I do nothing but look at things other ways, flipping them up and around, examining them, trying to understand at the very least my own obtuseness. I think, I really do torture myself with this: Surprises don’t come from people we know well, certainly not people we love. We call them surprises but they are inevitabilities. I must have been playing a role, a starring role, in an inevitability.

Siracusa is a fantastic choice if you’re heading on vacation (particularly to Italy).

The Hopefuls, Jennifer CloseThe Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
Fiction (Released July 19, 2016)
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: When young couple Matt and Beth Kelly move from New York City to Washington, D.C. for Matt’s job, they must navigate marriage and friendship in the political world.

My Thoughts: While The Hopefuls is set in the political world, it’s not a book about politics. Rather, it’s a book about marriage and friendship set against the backdrop of politics. Beth finds D.C. an odd and unwelcoming place until she and Matt meet the Dillons, another couple who will become their best friends. Beth is an accessible and relatable narrator and her witty commentary about the douche-y D.C. politicos had me chuckling. Maybe it was her pop culture references (including one about Friday Night Lights!) or her propensity to point out D.C. traits I would also find annoying or the fact that she and Matt’s time in NYC coincided with mine, but I felt like she was speaking my language. The Hopefuls also tackles themes that resonated with me: making new friends as adults (and navigating the boundaries of said friendships), the nosiness of small towns, and trying to find your footing in a new place.

Here’s what I still hate about DC: the way that nothing is permanent, the feeling that everything and everyone you know, could (and does) wash away every four or eight years. All of these important people, so ingrained in the city—you can’t imagine that this place could exist without them. But one day they’re gone and everything keeps moving just the same. Who can get their footing in a place like this? It feels like quicksand to me.

My only complaint was that the ending wrapped things up a little too nicely, yet didn’t. The question of where the characters end up was answered, but some large issues that figured prominently in the storyline and certainly should have impacted the outcome of the book were left unexplored. Despite the unsatisfying ending, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride (which, as I discussed here, is generally more important to me anyway) and highly recommend The Hopefuls as a light, relatable summer read.

You Will Know Me, Megan AbbottYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Fiction (Released July 26, 2016)
352 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: A tragic accident throws fifteen year-old gymnastics prodigy Devon Knox and her family’s carefully constructed training plans into chaos. 

My Thoughts: If you’re looking for a book that you can fly through, this is it. Megan Abbott writes young girls in the most deliciously demented way (see The Fever and Dare Me) and what better world for characters like that to inhabit than elite gymnastics. Only this time Abbott throws in a pack of overly zealous parents to deepen the appeal. She choreographs a meticulously drawn world of tiny powerhouse girls, parents who push all else aside to “help” their daughters achieve “their” dreams, and families whose literal (mountains of credit card debt, multiple mortgages) and figurative fortunes ride on their daughters’ young shoulders. 

A few months later, after placing sixth on beam and bars in the Level 10 Junior Nationals in sunstruck Orlando, she was ranked first among all Level 10s in their home state. “The greatest day of our life,” Devon said, and everyone laughed at the our, except it was true, wasn’t it?

Though the central plot points weren’t entirely unexpected, Abbott’s writing style had me on the edge of my seat, frantically turning pages, even though I was fairly confident I knew how this would end. The paragraphs are short…with an almost breathless quality and I could feel the tension crackling. If you’re not getting a big enough gymnastics fix during this week’s Olympics competition or just want a page-turning beach read, You Will Know Me is your ticket.

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Olympic Figures That Would Make Intriguing Book Characters

August 9, 2016 Bookish Posts 16

Olympic Figures That Would Make Intriguing Book Characters

One of my favorite parts about the Olympics are the stories behind the many colorful characters involved in the Games. Some are heartwarming, some are heartbreaking, some are inspiring, some are scandalous, and many encompass all of these qualities. It dawned on me that similar qualities can make fiction incredibly compelling…leading me to think about what Olympic figures would make intriguing book characters (if many of them didn’t already star in their own memoirs!). Let’s get to it…

Olympic Figures That Would Make Intriguing Book Characters

Tonya Harding

You’re probably familiar with the Nancy Kerrigan saga, which is one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” stories. What you may not know is that Harding was the first American woman to land the difficult triple axel in competition. After retirement from figure skating, she and her husband sold a sex tape to Penthouse and she fought Paula Jones (of Bill Clinton fame) in a Celebrity Boxing bout, going on to somewhat of a boxing career.

Memoir: The Tanya Tapes (which doesn’t seem to be listed on Goodreads or Amazon)

Caitlyn Jenner

I’m pretty sure this one needs no explanation unless you’ve been living under a rock.

Memoir: In progress.

Bela Karolyi

Coached both Romanian and U.S. gymnastics teams to Olympic gold. Responsible for some of the most successful female gymnasts in history (Nadia Comăneci, Mary Lou Retton, Dominique Moceanu). Criticized for his brutal training methods. Defected to the U.S. in 1981. Colorful personality. And, this from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics…”YOU CAN DO IT, KERRI!”

Greg Louganis

The first male in history to win back to back double gold medals in Olympic diving events (1984 and 1988). What you probably remember is him hitting his head on the 3M springboard at the 1988 Olympics…then going on to win gold anyway. He subsequently announced that he is gay, HIV positive and was infected during the 1988 Olympic board-hitting incident. What you may not know is he struggled with substance abuse and depression following his retirement from competitive diving and was in an abusive relationship. He is now recovered, happily married, and is a LGBT rights activist. He was also in the first inductee class of the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.

Memoir: Breaking the Surface

Dominique Moceanu

Hyped as the would-be star gymnast of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics at age 14, she competed with a stress fracture in her leg and didn’t perform up to expectations. She won emancipation from her parents at age 17 after they squandered much of her professional gymnastics earnings. She went on to write a memoir revealing a long lost sister that her parents had given up for adoption and skewering her long-time coach, Bela Karolyi’s, training methods and her father’s overbearing and threatening behavior (including threatening to hire a hitman to “take out” one of Moceanu’s former coaches).

Memoir: Off Balance

Jesse Owens

Four-time track and field gold medalist at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. As an African-American, he served as a powerful symbol juxtaposing the Nazi belief in Aryan supremacy on display in Berlin…and his success apparently annoyed Hitler.

Oscar Pistorius (aka “The Blade Runner”)

His legs were amputated as a baby and, after resounding success in the Paralympic Games, he successfully petitioned to compete in the non-disabled competition at the 2012 London Olympics. Much controversy about whether his artificial legs gave him a competitive advantage ensued. Heart-warming story until this point, no? Then, he was convicted of murdering his girlfriend.

Memoir: Blade Runner: My Story

Wilma Rudolph

After contracting polio as a child and wearing a brace on her leg until age nine, Rudolph became a two-time Olympian, becoming the first American woman to win 3 gold medals in a single Olympics at the 1960 Rome Games.

Dara Torres

Five-time Olympic swimmer who returned to competition after two separate eight year retirements (and the birth of her daughter) to win three silver medals in Beijing in 2008 at the age of 41. She attempted to qualify for the 2012 London Games at the age of 45, finishing a heart-breaking 3rd place at the U.S. Olympic Trials and missing her 6th Olympic Team by 0.03 seconds. To put all this in perspective, Torres was the oldest member of the 2000 Olympic swimming team at the age of 33, eight years before her 2008 Beijing performance.

Memoir: Age Is Just A Number

Katarina Witt

Two-time Olympic figure skating gold medalist (1984 and 1988) from East Germany. Used as a propaganda figure by the East German government during the Cold War. Was closely surveilled by her own government while being lavished with gifts such as cars, accommodations, etc. After retiring from skating, did a bit of acting and posed for Playboy.

Memoir: Only With Passion

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8 Books About the Olympics

August 4, 2016 Book Lists 17

8 Books About the Olympics

As I first talked about a few months ago, the Olympics (and particularly the Summer Olympics) is my all-time favorite sports event. So, when the Summer Olympics rolls around every four years, I turn into quite the fanatic…in my TV viewing and my reading! 

8 Books About the Olympics

In the Water They Can’t See You Cry: A Memoir by Amanda Beard
Seven-time Olympic swimming medalist Amanda Beard candidly talks about what it was like to be in the spotlight at such a young age, her struggle with depression and cutting, her experimentation with drugs, and her return to swimming after having a baby.

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters by Joan Ryan
An investigation of the grueling training practices in elite gymnastics and figure skating…and the physical impact on young girls.

One Day in September by Simon Reeve
The story of the 1972 terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics and Israel’s operation (“Wrath of God”) to hunt down every one of the surviving terrorist. There was also an award-winning documentary of the same name that was released in conjunction with the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World by David Maraniss
I’m listening to the audio of this book right now. I’m about halfway through and am learning a lot about the first Olympics that contained a doping scandal, the beginnings of sponsorship deals for athletes, and a teenage Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (review)
This book has been everywhere…but it really is one of my favorite books about the Olympics. I got wrapped up in the excitement of Joe Rantz and the University of Washington rowers’ quest to win gold and loved the historical background of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which was used as a propaganda instrument by the Nazis.

The Secret Olympian: The Inside Story of the Olympic Experience by Anonymous
A member of the 2004 Great Britain Olympic team gives an honest and juicy behind the scenes account of the Olympic experience – his own and that of fellow Olympians. This is the Olympics “gossip” book!

The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway (review)
The true story of a Hawaiian sugar plantation elementary school teacher (Soichi Sakamoto) who trained (starting in an irrigation ditch!) a group of mostly Japanese-American children to swim for the Olympics in the late 1930’s/40’s. With all the history about training methods, this is truly a swimming nerd’s book!

You Will Know Me: A Novel by Megan Abbott
A dark, twisty novel set in the world of elite competitive gymnastics. I just read this one and I couldn’t put it down. It’s going on my 2016 Summer Reading Guide and my Sports Books list.

And a bonus documentary…

The Last Gold: The Greatest Untold Story in Olympic Swimming History
This documentary about the U.S. women’s quest to beat the steroid-riddled East Germans to win just one swimming gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics premiered at the L.A. Film Festival this summer. I’m still trying to find out how to watch it at home. It appears to only be available through in person showings at this point.

Stay tuned for a few more Olympics-themed posts over the next few weeks.

This post contains affiliate links.

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (7/4/16)

July 4, 2016 It's Monday! What are you reading? 32

Hosted by The Book Date.

Happy 4th of July, everyone! We just returned from vacation visiting family in a couple locations around the Chesapeake Bay area. There was lots of sun, beach time, swimming, kayaking, paddle-boarding, a bit of boating, and a ton of of U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials watching! Ya’ll, you have no idea what I went through to make sure I watched every night of the trials! I poached some Internet access, insisted on dinner table viewing, ran multiple devices at one time, and texted with Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books during most all of it. Our very professional analysis included these highlights:

On Ryan Lochte:

Is it bad that I think he’s hot, but stupid?
No, it’s accurate. He should never speak.

On the 400 IM:

No one over 30 should be allowed to swim this race. It never ends well.

On 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and 2016 Olympic Qualifier Dana Vollmer:

She had a baby?! Insane.
Yep. Dude – her hubby is hot.
Yeah, who is he?!
Ex Stanford swimmer.
Oh, not a popular association these days.

During the women’s 400 IM:

Beisel is making me nervous. She’s dying.
Yes. Are your shoulders that big?
HA! Not now, but they used to be.
Beisel 3 seconds behind…I love that look.
Really?! Ugh – I hated having them. I love seeing the reactions of the first time Olympians.
Right?! Also great nail color on her!

More on female swimmers’ shoulders/backs:

How do these women buy a bra?
Ha! It’d be size like 46AA.

But, the highlight of the trials was watching my husband’s cousin (Callie Dickinson) drop 1.5 seconds from her best time to qualify for the semi-finals in the women’s 200 backstroke…and getting to swim in Missy Franklin’s heat that night! 

And, yes, I did read a little over vacation…

I finished reading…

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, Mudbound

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty
 by Ramona Ausubel (June 14, 2016)
Stellar first half with brilliant writing, but took a bit of a nosedive in the second half. I’m still deciding whether I’ll review it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (March 4, 2008)
Wow! Just a fantastic, gritty, Southern novel…which turned unputdownable by the end. Some sort of thoughts to come.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Dinner with Edward, Isabel Vincent

Dinner with Edward
 by Isabel Vincent (May 24, 2016)
This is memoir was my “something that sounds comforting” option from my vacation reading and, following Mudbound, it’s just what I need. 

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

I felt similarly about these two novels…they were fine, but I was just kind of bored.

Here Comes the Sun, Salvage the Bones

Here Comes the Sun
 by Nicole Dennis-Benn (July 5, 2016)
DNF’d at 36%

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (August 30, 2010)
DNF’d at 43%

Upcoming reading plans…

The Heavenly Table, All Is Not Forgotten

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock (July 12, 2016)
My first foray into Pollock, who I’ve heard writes amazing gritty fiction.

All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker (July 12, 2016)
The film rights to this novel about a high school girl who is unconventionally treated following a rape have been acquired by Reese Witherspoon’s production company.

Top 10 Reasons I Love the Summer Olympics

June 7, 2016 Top Ten Tuesday 45

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday
 is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish that asks bloggers to create Top Ten lists on a variety of bookish topics. This week’s topic is Top 10 Reasons I Love X.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m obsessed with the Olympics…particularly the Summer ones. The 2016 Rio Olympics are coming this August and I’ll have a couple of Olympics-themed posts around that time. In the meantime, I thought I’d give you a little preview of why I love the Olympics enough to write multiple blog posts about them. Plus, writing this post gave me a valid reason to go down the Olympics Internet rabbit hole!

Top 10 Reasons I Love the Summer Olympics

They get you to (temporarily) care about sports you don’t normally care about…
For me, it’s Beach Volleyball, Kayaking, Diving and Track & Field.

Certain moments stick in your head forever…
Like the moment legendary American diver Greg Louganis hit his head on the 3 meter springboard at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

You see history being made…
Like seeing the Men’s 4×100 Medley Relay win gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics to clinch Michael Phelps’ 8th gold medal, surpassing Mark Spitz for the most gold medals in a single Olympics.

You get swept up in the emotion…
Like watching Jason Lezak overcome a seemingly insurmountable deficit in the final leg of the men’s 4×100 Freestyle relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in a bar on Long Island, with a horde of other people who didn’t care at all about swimming. The entire bar was laser-focused on the TV, screaming their heads off for Lezak to catch the heavily favored Frenchman (Alain Bernard, the 100 Freestyle individual event gold medalist).

There is unintentional comedy…

You get to make fun of the United States’ latest attempt at attractive Opening Ceremony uniforms…

U.S. Olympic Uniforms 2016

Photo Credit: Instagram/Ralph Lauren

Unknown athletes become big stories…
Eric Moussambani of Equitorial Guinea swam the 100 meter freestyle in the 2000 Sydney Olympics after learning to swim just months before the Games and never having seen an Olympic size pool before. Though he finished more than a full minute behind the eventual gold medalist, he became a media sensation, earning the nickname “Eric the Eel”.

Like during March Madness, anything can happen…
The U.S. women’s swim team hadn’t won a single gold medal in the 1976 Montreal Olympics (because all the medals were being won by doped up Eastern Europeans) until their final shot in the 4×100 Freestyle relay, where they upset the favored (and cheating) East Germans. And, coincidentally, a documentary called The Last Gold covering this story is premiering this week!

Sports that normally don’t get attention take center stage…
Swimming, Gymnastics, Track & Field

There are hot people…

swimmer Ryan Lochte

U.S. Swimmer Ryan Lochte (2004, 2008, 2012, and hopefully 2016)


Retired Russian swimmer Alexander Popov (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004)

Retired Russian Swimmer Alexander Popov (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004)


Hurdler Lolo Jones

U.S. Hurdler (and Bobsledder!) LoLo Jones (2008, 2012, 2014, and hopefully 2016)


Serbian Tennis Player Ana Ivanovic (2008, 2012, 2016)

Serbian Tennis Player Ana Ivanovic (2008, 2012, 2016)

Inspirational Nonfiction: Home is Burning & The Three-Year Swim Club

November 19, 2015 Nonfiction 20

These reviews are part of Nonfiction November hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Becca at I’m Lost in Books, and Leslie at Regular Rumination.

Nonfiction November 2015

Though these books feel completely different or couldn’t have more different subject matters, they are both incredibly inspiring stories in their own ways.

Home is Burning, Dan MarshallHome is Burning by Dan Marshall
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released October 20, 2015)
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary: Dan Marshall is twenty-five and living a stress-free life in L.A. when he’s called home to help care for his ALS-stricken father (Bob) while his mother (Debi) undergoes chemo for her own advanced non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

My Thoughts: Home is Burning is inspiring, sad, funny, raw, and honest…I laughed (a lot) and cried (some). It’s full of life lessons and, thanks to Bob Marshall, is a blueprint for how to get the most out of the time you have left. Bob was an avid marathoner and chose to compete in the Boston Marathon despite his ALS diagnosis, finishing in just over six hours at a time when he couldn’t even tie his own shoes. It’s also full of F bombs, crass and inappropriate humor, drinking, and jabs at the Marshalls’ Mormon neighbors (they are a rare non-Mormon family in their Salt Lake City neighborhood). If any of this is likely to offend you, steer clear of this book!

Dan is upfront about his privilege (he regularly refers to himself as a “rich, white asshole”). He has no problem saying selfish-sounding things about the impact of his parents’ illnesses on his own life that I’m sure others’ in similar situations think, but never actually say. His openness about the emotions that go along with seeing your parents in such vulnerable situations and giving up your life to become a “caregiver” make this a must read for anyone finding themselves in a “caregiver” role. And, the entire book is a gigantic lesson in putting on your big boy/girl pants.

The Three-Year Swim ClubThe Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway
Nonfiction – Sports (Released October 27, 2015)
402 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…if you’re interested in swimming and/or the Olympics.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary: The true story of a Hawaiian sugar plantation elementary school teacher (Soichi Sakamoto) who trained (starting in an irrigation ditch!) a group of mostly Japanese-American children to swim for the Olympics in the late 1930’s/40’s.

My Thoughts: When I heard about this book at BEA, I immediately jumped on it…as I was a swimmer growing up (and was not familiar with this story) and love all things Olympics. Coming from that perspective, I enjoyed this book for the most part. I loved getting to nerd out with swimming and the Olympics – the political machinations behind the Olympic bidding process, 1930’s training techniques, and the differences in the 1930’s version of the sport (i.e. butterfly seemed to be missing and distances were 110, 220 rather than today’s 100, 200). If this stuff sounds like boring minutia, you should probably skip this one.

I was completely invested in the fates of Sakamoto and his underdog swimmers during the first half of the book. Can they become national players? Will the females be allowed to attend Nationals? Will his stars make the Olympic team? Then, World War II hit, changing the story’s direction. It hit the pause button on the swimming suspense and shuffled the people I’d been rooting for. This is obviously how real life played out, but it made for an odd story arc and dulled my emotions.

The Three-Year Swim Club lacked the intense emotional impact that made The Boys in the Boat such a widespread success, but would be a great choice for people interested in swimming and/or the Olympics.

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