How To Be An Olympian by Harry Reardon
I have always been a fan of sport, being a gymnast myself when I was younger and I am a big fan of the Olympics, so the book How To Be An Olympian by Harry Reardon is just my kind of thing. The book follows two sportswomen – Hannah Dines (Paralympian on the trike) and Jess Leyden (British rower). I hadn’t heard of these girls before, despite being a big sports fan (though rowing and cycling are not amongst the sports I follow the most).
It is really interesting to follow their journeys over the five years from Rio 2016 to Tokyo 2020 (2021) and all the obstacles they face – often bureaucratic as much as injury and illness. It feels very unfair the way they are both treated at times, especially by their sports’ governing bodies. I felt very angry on their behalf, especially poor Hannah who is dumped unceremoniously by British Cycling!
This book certainly demonstrates how much resilience, determination and psychological strength you need to compete at this level. It’s not for the faint-hearted! I have a lot of admiration for both Hannah and Jess after reading this book.
It was quite striking to me reading this book that sports people are often considered to be ‘machines’ by the governing bodies – they should reach these targets by this kind of time and so on. The fact that they are human and have lives beyond sport seems to often be ignored, or in the case of the rowing, that the quad consists of four different women with their own personalities and strengths and weaknesses to consider. When you watch the races on TV, it all looks so easy at the top level!
Of course, this Olympic cycle was particularly hard. To train for four years to get to 2020, only to find out the Olympics and Paralympics are being postponed for a year (at best). You hopefully reach your peak, only to discover you have to keep at that top level for a further twelve months! So this book explains how Hannah and Jess coped with that too.
Harry Reardon writes beautifully, his style is easy to read and informative and I especially like his humour, particularly in the footnotes.
The only criticism I have is that I would have liked to have had a photo section in the middle of the book or at least photos of Hannah and Jess included on the cover or inside. I had to Google what they looked like instead!
8 out of 10