Every two years, I become enraptured. The Olympics.
Summer or winter, I love it all: the excitement, the drama, the human stories, the medal counts, the ceremonies.
From pretending to be Kristi Yamaguchi, twirling in my socks in the kitchen, to now following Olympians on Twitter, I can’t get enough.
And I’m hardly alone.
There’s a magic to the Olympics that goes beyond competition. It’s the one thing — the one thing — that the entire world does together.
We put aside all our differences for the luge.
Some 122 years ago, we, as a planet, decided to resurrect an ancient Greek sporting event and play games together for 16 days every two years.
How? Why? And what’s it like to compete in them?
Find out below, in my Gold Medal picks for Winter Olympic books to get you in the spirit.
ON OLYMPIC HISTORY
This one may be the definitive book on the history of the modern Olympic Games: “The Games: A Global History of the Olympics,” by David Goldblatt (2016.)
New York Times bestselling sports writer Goldblatt looks for anthropological answers: how did the Olympics develop into a global colossus? Why do we care about them so much? Here, Goldblatt delves into everything you could ever wonder about the Games and more. As we’re told in the publisher’s synopsis:
From the reinvention of the Games in Athens in 1896, he traces the Games history and gives us the history behind Olympic traditions such as winners’ medals, the torch relay, and the eternal flame. We have the story of popular Olympic events such as gymnastics, the marathon, and alpine skiing — as well as discontinued events, like tug-of-war. We learn how women fought to be included in the Olympics on equal terms, how the wounded of World War II led to the Paralympics. Goldblatt explores battles between cities for the right to host and covers seminal moments as Jesse Owens and Hitler at Berlin in 1936; Munich in 1972.
For a brief and solid little history of the ancient Olympic Games, curious minds might reach for “The Ancient Olympic Games,” by Judith Swaddling.
There are a few editions; go for the 2015 edition. The history of the Olympics is simply fascinating. According to the publisher’s synopsis:
For over 1,000 years, between 776 BC and 395, people from all over the classical world flocked every four years to Olympia in Western Greece to see famous athletes compete for the olive crowns of the ancient Olympic Games. Like today, the Games were huge, and so was the build-up: virtually the whole of the preceding year was devoted to the preparations. But these games were much more than just a sporting event: religion, power, politics, scandal, and propaganda were all at the center of the five-day festival. Held in honor of Zeus, the supreme god of Greek mythology, a visit to Olympia was also a pilgrimage to his sacred temple.
Here, Swaddling paints a vivid picture of what the first Games were like in an academic publication that’s accessible to the average fan.
The whole family might enjoy “The Treasures of the Olympic Winter Games,” published in association with the official Olympic Museum and the International Olympic Committee.
There are two editions, so go for the 2014 edition — a massive visual tome, packed with photos and history of the Winter Games.
According to the synopsis, we learn the exploits of global Olympic legends past and present, from Sonja Henie to Shaun White.
Bonus fun: the book includes more than 20 removable artifacts from the Olympic Museum's archive, including historical documents, tickets, programs, collectible cards, full-size posters and more.
HISTORIC MOMENTS AND MEDALISTS
Speaking of the miracle on ice, we have “The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team,” by Wayne Coffey, with foreword by 1980 USA hockey team goalie Jim Craig.
Craig, who hails from Easton, right down Route 24, writes in the foreword:
“Years before I ever heard of Lake Placid or the Olympics, before I knew the name of a single Russian hockey player, I was a kid in Massachusetts who wanted to be the next Bobby Orr… A man named Phil Thompson, our postman, was the person who told me I should try organized hockey in the Easton Junior Hockey League.”
The rest is history.
“Cool Runnings and Beyond: The Story of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Team,” by Chris Stokes (2002.) We all know the movie. Now read the book by one of the actual “cool runners.” Stokes, who went on to become president of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation — tells the true story, not the Hollywood version, about the famous Jamaican bobsleigh team that captured the world’s heart at the 1988 Calgary Games.
In Dorothy Hamill’s candid memoir, “A Skating Life: My Story” (2008) we learn that the 1976 Olympic champion, known for her winning smile and famous haircut, struggled with chronic depression, which she battled through two failed marriages.
In a similar vein, 1968 Olympic gold medalist Peggy Fleming tells her story in “The Long Program: Skating Toward Life's Victories.” (2000) A breast cancer survivor, Fleming also relates how every person endures their own version of “the long program.”
Ski fans might remember Picabo Street from the 1998 and 2002 games. In “Picabo: Nothing to Hide,” (2001) she told her story about battling depression, rebuilding her body and psyche after a horrific crash, and what young girls need to know: "I learned what all girls need to learn: that you can kick ass, and you should never be ashamed of it."¬¬
For ages 8 to 12, we have “A Kid's Guide to the 2018 Winter Games,” by Jack L Roberts, designed by Michael Owens. Kiddos will be introduced to all the sports in the Winter Olympics, and some top Team USA athletes. The book includes a history of the Winter Games, fun facts and trivia, as well as a Medal Tracker to keep track of the gold, silver, and bronze medals that Team USA brings home, and color photos. I would’ve wanted this one as a kid.
Kristi Yamaguchi is not just an Olympic gold medalist but also a New York Times bestselling children’s author. “Dream Big, Little Pig!,” by Yamaguchi and illustrated by Tim Bowers (2011) tells the story of Poppy: a waddling, toddling pig with big dreams. When Poppy feels the magic of twirling on ice, she truly believes in herself. The illustrations are fantastic.
Yamaguchi also has “Cara’s Kindness,” illustrated by John Lee (2016) about Cara the Cat who is struggling with picking the perfect song for her new ice-skating routine. When a friend in need turns up at the rink, Cara drops everything to lend a helping hand. Charming illustrations and story.
Lauren Daley is a freelance writer and BookLovers columnist. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow her at https://www.facebook.com/daley.writer. She tweets @laurendaley1.