Alan Hubbard: Forget Fifty Shades of Grey, Two Hundred Shades of Gold looks set to be the new raunchy bestseller
Wednesday, 11 July 2012
Now stand by for the Olympic sequel: Two Hundred Shades of Gold.
That is approximately the number of books about the Games that will be on the shelves by opening night as 2012 heads for the biggest publishing bonanza in Olympic history.
A whole pile of them are already stacked up in my study, propped up by the daddy of them all, the prodigious tome produced by veteran scribe David Miller.
A veritable War And Peace of the Games, his Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) is an Olympian assembly of stats and stories, though hardly one you would carry around the Olympic Park as your guide to the Games. Unless you happen to be an Olympic weight-lifter...
Actually, immensely fascinating as it is, it also makes a terrific door-stop. For the £40 ($62/€51), 683-page foot-long, two-inch thick epic (pictured above) published by Mainstream weighs in at six and a half pounds. As Sebastian Coe says, definitely a book which is harder to pick up than put down.
There are two other books which I also recommend: Neil Wilson's entertainingly compiled The Greatest British Olympians (Carlton, £16.99 ($26.33/€21.48)), which contains beautifully-illustrated biographies of 58 legendary figures, and Britain & The Olympics by Bob Phillips (Carnegie, £12.99 ($20.13/€16.42)), equally readable with its mixture of history and nostalgia.
But if Fifty Shades of Grey is more your cup of tea (Earl Grey, no doubt) there are a couple of steamy paperbacks which allegedly lifts the lid on what happens when the curtains are drawn in those Olympic Village apartments.
The Secret Olympian (Bloomsbury, £8.99 ($13.93/€11.37)) is supposedly scribbled by a former Team GB athlete, who highlights just how much fun goes on in the Games. A lot of laughs as well as lovemaking – in Beijing's Olympic village, the 10,000 free-issue condoms were emblazoned with the motto "Faster, Higher, Stronger", and had to be replenished hourly. Revealing stuff – except for the identity of the anonymous author, believed to be a rower. No, not you, Sir Steve...
Then there is Sex and the Olympics (Collaborative Publications, pictured below), an Australian-produced "unauthorised guide to the raunchy hormonal stew that is the Olympic Village".
Author James Buckley claims that since the Ancient Greeks invented the Games "the Olympics were always destined to be a sordid and sexual affair". Well, they did run naked in those days.
The Greeks may well have had a word for it, but it for the less prurient students of Olympic affairs I suggest a compelling look-back at the first of the modern Games in Athens to compare just how different things were when it all kicked off.
1986: The First Modern Olympics has been researched and penned with diligence and some humour by sports historian David Randall, a colleague of mine for several years both on the Observer and Independent on Sunday.
He has always been something of a sports "nut", although I have yet to see him in an anorak, and the book is a joyous account of how these inaugural Games gave birth to modern international sport.
One gem tells how security was hardly a consideration, with one exception. The United States ambassador took no chances and issued every American competitor with a Colt 45.
Here are some other absorbing snippets:
· The most eccentric journey by an athlete to the 1896 Games was that of Italian runner Carlo Airoldi (pictured above) from Milan. He took a train a short distance from his home city, and then got off and decided to walk the rest of the way – 1,000 miles through northern Italy, Bosnia, Croatia, Albania, Macedonia, and Greece. He duly arrived in Athens, but then found that the Games organisers refused him entry because he had once accepted prize money and was therefore a professional. His club, Milan's Societ Pro-Italia, lodged an appeal, but this was rejected and Airoldi had to go back home.
· No National Olympic Committees to select and pay for teams' travel and accommodation then. The US team, whose heroic journey stopped the Athens Games being an entirely European affair, was paid for by a couple of wealthy patrons, and the athletes themselves. They left Hoboken, New Jersey on the SS Fulda on March 21, and arrived in the port of Naples 12 days later. They then caught a train for Brindisi, followed by a boat to Patras, and, finally, a train to Athens. They arrived on April 4, the day before the Games opened, after a journey of 17 days.
· There were a couple of conspicuous acts of sportsmanship. The 100k cycling took a heavy toll of the original ten starters, and eventually only two survived: Léon Flameng (pictured below, left) of France, and Greece's Georgios Kolettis. At one point Kolettis had to stop to repair his bike, whereupon Flameng, who was racing with a French flag tied around one of his legs, stopped too and waited for him. He was not to suffer for his sportsmanship. Despite falling himself near the end, he crossed the line after 3 hours 8 minutes and 19 seconds of pedalling, and claimed by a margin of 11 laps the first of many Olympic cycling titles for France.
· Then there was the generosity of the best two marksmen at the Games, the American Paine brothers. John won the first shooting event, the 25 metre pistol, and then dropped out of the 30m event to allow his brother Sumner to win that. Both clearly in a league of their own, they then decided to retire from all shooting events to give others a chance.
· The Closing Ceremony, at which all medals and prizes were presented (including gifts such as the ties for some winners donated by a Greek department store), opened with something unlikely to be repeated now. British field athlete (and tennis player) George Robertson, stepped forward and recited an ode in ancient Greek.
· The swimming events were held not in a pool, but in the sea. A large raft was anchored off shore at Piraeus, and competitors were taken by boat out to this, clambered onto it, lined up, dived into the sea, and struck out for the beach. The Games were held in early April and so the Med was bitterly cold – with the water estimated to be a mere 13C. It was too much for one entrant, young American Gardner Williams, who, in the 100m, dived in, screamed out at the freezing water, and hauled himself back onto the raft to end his involvement in a race for which he had travelled 17 days to compete.
· Press hostility to the Games was common. As US athletes departed for Greece, the New York Times wrote: "The American amateur sportsman should know that in going to Athens he is taking an expensive journey to a third-rate capital...where he will be devoured by fleas...and where, if he does win prizes, it will be an honour requiring explanation."
· The track was 500m long, very long and narrow, with bends so severe that athletes had to appreciably slow to stay on their feet. This, plus its soft cinder surface was estimated to add at least 15 seconds to 1,500m times. For the 100m and high hurdles, the "lanes" were not only marked by paint but had little string fences about a foot off the ground all the way down the track.
· Crouch starts (no starting blocks then) were so novel that the Greek crowds laughed when US sprinters such as 100m winner Tom Burke got down on one knee. In the high hurdles, the Greeks failed, mainly because they treated each hurdle as if it were a high jump. And, in the field events, the Americans triple jumpers found, much to their initial alarm, that their event was not a hop, skip, and jump, but a hop, hop, jump. No measured run-ups were allowed, and no one was told how far they had leapt until the event was over.
The book concludes with a chapter which tells of what befell some of those first Olympic heroes, like the one who became a freedom fighter and another a war correspondent. Two brothers who won gold as gymnasts, German Jews Alfred and Gustav Flatow, later perished in concentration camps in their seventies.
Weightlifter Launceston Elliot (pictured below) was Britain's first Olympic champion, and, of all the 1896 Olympians, the one who was most able to cash in on his sporting success, becoming a world-famous circus strongman.
Following publication, Randall has heard from a descendent of one of the participants, Demetrios Golemis, the 800m bronze medalist.
His doctor grandson John Tripoulas tells a remarkable story of how Golemis, the son of a poor fisherman from Lefkada Island, was sent to Piraeus where he worked as a house servant in order to pay his living expenses while simultaneously attending high school there.
As a reward for his success in the Olympic Games, Golemis was awarded a scholarship by Prince George of Greece. He graduated from Athens University Medical School in 1901 to become a respected poet.
No doubt Baron Pierre de Coubertin would have approved. For it was he who introduced a literary section into those early Games, and took the very first poetry gold medal himself in 1912 for his "Ode to Sport".
Some journey from that innocuous ode to Sex and The Olympics.
Randall's 1896: The First Modern Olympics and its companion Tweet Edition are published as eBooks by Black Toad Books at £2.99 ($4.63/€3.78) and £0.99 ($1.53/€1.25) respectively.
Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.