Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Eric Liddell

Great Books about Sacrifice and Olympic Glory


The Summer Olympics are off to a fine start. Who can resist the joyful, ebullient faces of the athletes from all over the globe as they enter the Olympic stadium? Each of those athletes has a story to tell. Of sacrifice, of heartbreaking failure, of a struggle out of poverty, and of the love of family who believed in them. We love books about Olympic athletes to remind us that no matter how insurmountable the odds, it’s always possible to succeed with grace and grit. And since kids love to gather around the TV at night to watch these athletes and dream their own dreams of success, we found some children’s and young adult books to encourage those dreams.

boys in the boat cover

The Boys in the Boat. Daniel James Brown’s book tells the remarkable true story of the University of Washington’s eight-man rowing team who won gold in the infamous summer Olympics of 1936, the same Olympics that made Jesse Owens, rightfully, one of the most famous American athletes of the games. This book, which reads like a novel, describes the unlikely confluence of elements that created a team Olympic champions: 8 earnest and hardworking boys from the bleak 1930’s Pacific Northwest into a world-class, a brilliant and skilled boat maker, and a clever coach who somehow found a way to conquer a national field of qualifiers, and finally, defeat the best rowing teams in the world. This book was also recently released for young readers. THE BOYS IN THE BOAT YOUNG READERS EDITION.

PBS recently produced a one-hour documentary based on the Boys in the Boat.

unbroken cover

UNBROKEN: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, is Laura Hillenbrand’s recounting of Louis Zamperini, who, from an incorrigible hell raiser as a youth, become one of the most talented runners in the Berlin Olympics. When World War II interrupted his plans for the 1940 Olympics and he became an airman in the army. When his air force bomber crashed in Pacific, he drifted on a lifeboat with his surviving crew members, surviving shark attacks, starvation, thirst and enemy aircraft attacks and finally, an even greater challenge. This story of desperation, hope, resolve and finally, survival, is what Entertainment Weekly called “an astonishing testament to the superhuman power of tenacity.”

owens cover

No history of the Olympics would be complete without the telling of Jesse Owens glorious triumph at the 1936 Olympics. In Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics, Jeremy Schaap tells the story of what really happened over the tense, exhilarating weeks during the 1936 Olympics. Set against a backdrop of swastikas, Owens, an African-American son of sharecroppers won 4 gold medals. Schaap enriches this well known legend with previously unpublished interviews of Owens’ family and archival research to retell this dramatic tale of Owens and his teammates.  

liddell cover

For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr by Duncan Hamilton. You may remember Eric Liddell as the Olympic gold medalist from the Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire. Liddell would not run on Sunday because of his strict Christian faith and, as a result, he did not compete in his signature event, the 100 meters, at the 1924 Paris Olympics. He was the greatest sprinter in the world at the time, and his choice not to run was ridiculed by fellow athletes and the press the British Olympic committee. He did compete in a new event for him, winning gold in the 400 meters. His faith let him to China to missionary work and during war he was interned at a Japanese work camp with other westerners. His Christianity was tested as he counseled fellow prisoners and gave up his meals to others more in need. He died just before the end of the war and was mourned around the world. His story of sacrifice still inspires the next generation.

mia hamm cover

Winners Never Quit! Mia Hamm, American soccer champion, the world’s top goal scorer and three-time Olympian tells a story about perseverance and teamwork. In this motivational story, little Mia becomes frustrated after losing a match. Her teammates decide to teach her a gentle lesson, through which she learns about teamwork, losing with grace and about the joy of playing soccer whether her team wins or loses. The book concludes with a summary of facts and photos of Mia Hamm’s rise to soccer superstar.

michael phelps cover

How to Train a T Rex and win 8 Gold Medals. Michael Phelps, the American swimmer, holds the record for winning the most gold medals (8) in a single Olympics (2008).  He has won 22 Olympic medals, 18 gold, two silver and two bronze. In this book, written with Alan Abrahamson, Phelps encourages kids to work hard to achieve their dreams. He explains his training regimen using concepts children can understand. For example, six years of training are described as “as kindergartner’s whole life!” In once section, Phelps describes his training by saying, “I got so strong from training that my legs could press 300 pounds 60 times in one workout. That’s 18,000 pounds total, or nine tons! I could leg-press a Tyrannosaurus Rex and 10 velociraptors!” This is accompanied by a humorous drawing of a T-Rex with smaller dinosaurs on his back being lifted by Michael Phelps. It’s a great book to keep kids motivated to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be.

Five Flicks For the Olympics


USA!  USA!  Starting August 5th, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games commence in Rio. Sadly, this year’s athletic spectacles are likely to be overshadowed by the Zika virus that is ravaging Brazilian society at the moment and indeed many competitors might not participate this year for fear of infection. In fact 150 doctors signed a letter to the World Health Organization asking that the games be canceled or at least postponed this year for exactly that reason. Other issues dogging the games include pollution, problems constructing the necessary infrastructure, the notoriously high crime rate in Rio, ongoing doping scandals, etc. Still, those supporting Team USA will still want to watch our amazing athletes compete. To get into the mood, why not watch a film about the Olympic games?

Tokyo Olympiad (1965)  This documentary directed by Kon Ichikawa (47 Ronin) about the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo was considered a milestone in documentary making, being very much a cinematic and artistic recording of the events more concerned with the atmosphere of the games and the athletes themselves than simply recording the winners and losers.  That turned out though, to be the exact opposite of what the Japanese government (who’d financed the film) wanted and they made Ichikawa significantly edit it to get the 93 minute version they wanted rather than his 170 minute version.  The latter version though is considered to be one of the best films about the Olympics AND one of the best sports documentaries of all time.

Chariots of Fire (1981)  Written by Colin Welland and directed by Hugh Hudson, Chariots tells the true story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) a devout Scotsman who runs for the glory of god, and Cambridge student Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) who runs to overcome British anti-Semitism. Considered to be one of the greatest sports movies ever filmed it was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Score.

Cool Runnings (1993)  Directed by Jon Turtletaub (While You Were Sleeping, National Treasure) this tells the story of the debut of the Jamaican National Bobsled’s team at the 1988 Calgary Olympics – despite the fact that the team members had never even experienced winter before. Funny and surprisingly touching with the late, great John Candy in one of his final roles, it was an unexpected box office hit making over $150 million on a $14 million budget.

Miracle (2004)  Directed by Gavin O’ Conner, it recounts the “Miracle on Ice” when the U.S. hockey team in a startling upset defeated the Soviet team and won the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics. Kurt Russell (Escape From New York, Tequila Sunrise) is the lead as coach Herb Brooks, Patricia Clarkson plays his wife, and Noah Emmerich (The Truman Show, Cellular,) as Brooks’ assistant general manager this one has an over 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Top Spin (2014) This feature length documentary was directed by Mina T. Son and Sara Newens follows three American table top tennis players: Ariel Hsing, Michael Landers, and Lily Zhang, on their journey to the 2012 Olympics. The film premiered at NYC DOC 2014 where it received and audience award and was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2015 CAAMFest. It currently has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Top photo: Bigstock