Saturday, September 5, 2015

Speed Kings

I am an avid fan of bobsledding in the Olympic games. It's one of the events I try not to miss. So I was excited to be offered the chance to read an early copy of Andy Bull's new book, Speed Kings, which highlights the 1932 American Olympic bobsled team.

In the years leading up to bobsledding being added to the Olympics, people had not experienced the types of speed that you and I are accustomed to. They traveled at the speed a horse could travel, whether on horseback or the horse pulling a buggy or wagon. The first automobiles traveled a whopping 20-30 miles per hour. But with dirt roads, they bogged down easily and often had to drive slower.

Just imagine how thrilling it must have been to hurtle down a snowy, icy mountain side on a bobsled! Those first thrill-seekers must have imagined themselves being shot out of a canon as they blasted down the slopes!

Alas, this is where I must confess I got hung up in reading the book. Apparently the best bobsledding to be had happened at St. Moritz, the playground of the rich, elite, and famous. The book became a veritable "who's who" of the silver-spoon set and, although the writing is excellent, it simply became more of a celebrity name-dropping scene than I could stomach. I kept trying to get into it, but the faster the names and titles of the heirs and heiresses came hurtling past me, the slower and slower my trudge through the piles of people became. Until, finally, I surrendered.

Your experience with this book may be vastly different! Perhaps you enjoy celebrity sightings and rubbing elbows with the upper echelons of society. Maybe you will be better able to simply skim the early chapters in order to move on to what is surely the best parts of the story these daredevils have to offer. I hope that at some point in the future I may be able to pick it up again and do so myself. For now I thank the publisher for the ARC and will shelve this one on my "Try Again Another Time" shelf.

From the Publisher . . .

A story of risk, adventure, and daring as four Americans race to win the gold medal in the most dangerous competition in Olympic history.

In the 1930s, as the world hurtled toward war, speed was all the rage. Bobsledding, the fastest and most thrilling way to travel on land, had become a sensation. Exotic, exciting, and brutally dangerous, it was the must-see event of the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, the first Winter Games on American soil. Bobsledding required exceptional skill and extraordinary courage—qualities the American team had in abundance.

There was Jay O’Brien, the high-society playboy; Tippy Grey, a scandal-prone Hollywood has-been; Eddie Eagan, world champion heavyweight boxer and Rhodes Scholar; and the charismatic Billy Fiske, the true heart of the team, despite being barely out of his teens. In the thick of the Great Depression, the nation was gripped by the story of these four men, their battle against jealous locals, treacherous US officials, and the very same German athletes they would be fighting against in the war only a few short years later.

Billy, in fact, went on to talk his way into the Royal Air Force—despite their Brits-only policy—and was there to fight the Nazis during the Battle of Britain. King of speed to the end, he would become the first American fighter pilot killed in WWII.

The exploits of Billy and his teammates make up a story that spans the globe, from Golden Age Hollywood to seedy New York gambling dens, to the most fashionable European resorts, the South Seas, and beyond. Evoking the glamour and recklessness of the Jazz Age, Speed Kings will thrill readers to the last page.

About the Author . . .

Andy Bull is the senior sportswriter for the Guardian. After studying English at Oxford, Andy Bull entered journalism and has now worked at the Guardian for eight years, during which time he has covered two Olympic Games, the Cricket and Rugby World Cups, the World Athletics and the World Swimming Championships, the Commonwealth Games, and Wimbledon. He has also written features, interviews (ranging from Oscar Pistorius to Harold Pinter), blogs, and colour pieces. He has received multiple nominations and commendations at both the British Press Awards and Sports Journalism Awards, and has his own cricket column, “The Spin,” e-mailed out to 20,000 readers each week.

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