The Most Incredible Olympic Stories is a roadmap that takes the reader on a journey through the pages of history. It is full of myth, magic and gallantry at every turn. Tales of dirty politics too and of fair play; fraternity and genocide and you even find women being questioned whether they are ‘really’ women. Diving deep, the author comes up with fascinating stories of sports, revealing the myths that lurk behind them. No wonder, the book has found success internationally and been published in 15 languages.
Some of you will wonder why the Japanese seemed so keen on organising the Olympics, especially under the shadow of the present pandemic?
The answer lies in the September 2013 announcement of Tokyo 2020. It was greeted by all Japanese, because it came at a time when Japan had experienced more than two decades of economic stagnation, and, in 2011, they had suffered the most powerful earthquake and tsunami in its history. The man on the street saw it as a golden opportunity for national redemption. It was their chance to showcase to the world how to safely conduct a major international sporting event despite the ongoing pandemic.
Luciano, the author, has had a lot of experience in peeping through the keyhole to spy on the untold stories of the Football World Cup. This time he delves into the treasure trove of the Olympic Games and brings out for us a clutch of rare gems.
Take for instance Athens, where FIFA continued its weird habit of appointing referees from countries with little or no football tradition, even for important matches. The Tahitian referee, Charles Ariiotima—who worked as a plumber—was ill-equipped to handle the finer aspects of the game. In the 78th minute of a tense game between Serbia and Tunisia that was finely poised at 1-1, he awarded a penalty to Tunisia. Thrice he annulled the penalty kick, twice it was stopped by the goalkeeper. The 7,000 spectators almost exploded at his inept judgement. At the end of the day, the Tunisian team finally won 3-2 but were eliminated soon after. Of course, Ariiotima did not arbitrate in Greece again, he went back to working as a plumber.
Or, take the Ethiopian legend Abebe Bikila, who lapped the shores of fame with his barefoot triumph in the marathon in Rome (1960) and in Tokyo (1964). On his way home, he was in a terrible road accident driving the Volkswagen Beetle that Emperor Hail Selassie had presented him. He was a special invitee to the Munich Games, but his health worsened. When he passed away of a stroke in October 1973, 75,000 people attended his funeral and the Emperor decreed a day of national mourning for the death of a national hero.
The Rio Games of 2016 are remembered for producing two Olympian gods: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and American swimmer Michael Phelps. Both left behind hard-to-beat records: ‘Lightning Bolt’ won eight gold medals in three Olympic games, while by the end of his glorious run, the ‘Baltimore Shark’ had bagged 28 Olympic medals.
An easy read even for those who play no games.
The Olympics was Japan’s chance to showcase to the world how to safely conduct a major international sporting event despite the ongoing pandemic
The Most Incredible Olympic Stories
By: Luciano Wernicke
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Price: Rs 595