Monday, December 17, 2012

BC2012: As Good as Gold by Kathryn Bertine

I first saw this book at Borders in Wilmette, but I didn't want to pay the hardcover price. I looked for it throughout the bankruptcy sales last year, but I never saw it (apparently it sold out when the discounts were still only 20-40%). I finally came across an used copy at Barnes & Noble in Minnesota for only $6 last October. I was going to read it around the time of the Olympics this year, but my wife took it (and didn't read it). Last week I took it back.

Some ESPN editors were wondering how difficult it really is to make it into the Olympics so they made Bertine, a professional triathlete and writer, an offer she couldn't refuse: they covered her expenses for two years as she chased the dream of qualifying for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and wrote about it online, culminating in this book.

Bertine begins by trying a variety of sports. Though she is a triathlete, she is better suited to Ironmans, so she can't race competitively in the much shorter Olympic triathlon event. She attempts obscure (particularly in America) sports like pentathlon, team handball, and race walking. She discovers those sports require skills she doesn't have. Part of the problem is her age--a national team may be willing to invest in developing a gifted young athlete, but it's pretty much too late for someone over 30 to master the techniques and be competitive at an international level.

After checking out luge (it's a winter event, of course, but USA Luge challenges her after her ESPN editors belittle the sport) and rowing (which she had done successfully in college), she tries to leverage her triathlon skills in open water swimming and track cycling. Though those events aren't right for her, she learns that she might have an outside shot as a road cyclist. Thus begins her quest to go from Category 4 to the Olympics in too little time. She admirably advances to Category 2 within months so she can race the US championships, but she places in the middle of the field in both the time trial and road race.

Her US Olympic hopes snuffed out, she takes the advice of her ESPN editors and goes shopping for another country where she can get dual citizenship and compete. This draws harsh criticism from some people (including Amazon reviewers), and Bertine has her own misgivings about it, but she ultimately proceeds in the best way possible. Since many smaller nations don't have women's cycling programs, she commits to helping them get started in exchange for being able to compete under their flag. The Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis accepts her offer, but time becomes her most formidable enemy.

I enjoyed reading As Good as Gold. Bertine gets a chance to pursue her dream, and she has the commitment and determination to overcome many obstacles. She introduces readers to sports that don't get much attention (can you name the five events in the modern pentathlon?) before finally settling into one that I am familiar with. I could have done without a few of her between-chapter "water breaks", but overall this book is a pleasing mixture of entertainment and inspiration.

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