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4.1 out of 5 stars
The Secret Olympian: The Inside Story of the Olympic Experience
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2012
This book is a light and easy read, which I enjoyed. But I can't say I found any great revelations. I don't think too many readers would be the slightest bit surprised by anything in this book - indeed most of the contents are what most readers would assume.

Yes of course it is difficult to be selected for Team GB. (Does anyone like the label Team GB, although that isn't the fault of the author?) Yes there is a lot of GB kit handed out. Yes the run-up to the events is stressful for the athletes. Yes the atmosphere in the Olympic village changes - it is clear to anyone that 95% of the athletes have no realistic prospect of obtaining a medal and once your event is over there is nothing to do but support others and party. And yes of course the greatest fuss is made of those who win gold, or at least some medal.

The most interesting and thoughtful part of the book comes at the end, when discussing the post-Olympic blues (my description, not the author's) and the difficulty of deciding whether to retire. A person has to be unbalanced to a degree to have the necessary committment to be an Olympic athlete. I would have liked to read more on this complex topic, and how athletes cope post-Olympics.

I have not researched who is the author - it may be widely known - but there is nothing in the book which compels this to be a secret in any way. I suspect the secrecy is just part of the marketing hype, which irritates somewhat. I would like to know the sport of the author, to understand what may be bias in place, and I see no reason for the sport not to be revealed.

Based on some minor clues my guess is the author was a rower or sculler. But there are some indications to the contrary which I suspect are deliberate to put readers like me off the scent. My guess of a rower could be wildly out.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 September 2012
I'm not sure why this book's author wanted to remain anonymous. Perhaps he's a particularly shy individual. Perhaps he felt it would threaten his future career. Perhaps it was a marketing ploy. But it certainly can't have been because of any shocking revelations or accusations made in the book, because there simply aren't any. And, actually, the associated coyness around mentioning the sport in which he competes makes this book lack a little something. The anonymity is a shame.

That said, it does give a great insight into the life and psyche of an Olympian, much of it backed up by descriptions from named competitors. He describes sometimes a crippling doubt about sporting ability that apparently affects most Olympians; the challenge of a whole career resting on a performance lasting just minutes or seconds; the extraordinary commitment needed to reach the top in a given sport.

The Secret Olympian also gives a compelling description of how National Lottery funding has transformed professional sport in the UK, and peppers the early part of the book with the interesting descriptions of how Olympians found their sport.

There is, as one would expect, detailed descriptions of the seemingly absurd excesses of life as an Olympian: the masses of free kit, the gallons of free Powerade, the inside-story (also well-described elsewhere) of life inside the Olympic village. Though, clearly, this book can't give the inside-track on London 2012, as it was written well before that got underway.

Still, it's a worthwhile read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2012
I decided to purchase this book after hearing the 'Secret Olympian' on 5 Live prior to the 2012 games.

It promises much, but I am afraid it left me cold. Possible its best feature is that in being only 214 pages it doesn't take long to get through! All the promise of major revelations, etc just don't materialise in the book. Quotes focus on perhaps 10 former Olympians (of varying levels of ability and fame). The insight into the Olympic Village was dull.

On the plus point the book gives a decent overview of what Olympians put themselves through to reach the pinnacle of their sport and I found that part of the book interesting.

But if you are hoping for sordid tales, blockbuster revelations, intrigue and gossip - you'll be deeply disappointed.
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"For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting." - Gen. George C. Patton

"'Aeint what did you dooo?' she asks politely, not looking that interested." - Anon in THE SECRET OLYMPIAN, quoting Queen Elizabeth's question to him during Her Majesty's post-Games audience with Team Great Britain

THE SECRET OLYMPIAN, written anonymously by a male member of Great Britain's national team in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, is a comprehensive account of what it's like to compete in the Games based on his own experience and that of many other former and current Olympians. Anon was, evidently, one of the runners in the track and field category. He didn't win a medal.

Anon takes the reader the full gamut of the Olympic experience from selection for the national team to the homecoming and ultimately de rigueur post-competition deflation. The author leaves no subject unaddressed, even if only superficially, and includes: in-country arrival, the Olympic village, the opening ceremonies, food, freebies, doping scandals, parties, sponsorships, skill practice, maintaining mental motivation, pre-event angst, event performance, uniform bartering for souvenirs, the closing ceremonies, the welcome home to a grateful nation, and much more.

And, of course, there's the topic driven by prurient interest that perhaps encourages many to crack the book at all:

"Having completed competition, the athletes need to do something else to burn off their boundless energy ... like thoroughbred racehorses which haven't had a run out for a while, they get frisky. You can almost smell a fine haze of testosterone and oestrogen wafting through the air ... No one need know about your indiscretions ... What does all this mean? Sex, and plenty of it, increasing exponentially through the Games as more and more athletes finishing competing."

The most interesting chapter for me was the last, "The Dark Side of the Moon", in which Anon describes the emotional, mental, and physical letdowns experienced by the athletes home once again, especially if they decide their Olympic days are over and lives must be refocused and redirected. The repercussions can be devastating.

My only quarrel with Anon's narrative is that it is told with very little humor, self-deprecatory or otherwise. The absence of that spark reduces THE SECRET OLYMPIAN from a must-read to just a very good one. In any case, I suspect the reader will never view another Olympiad in the same way ever again.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 3 June 2012
I was very keen to read this (as a self confessed athletics nut) and it did not disappoint....in fact, I read it in one go on a long flight, unable to put it down (despite having work to do!). We get a full range of experiences from the Secret Olympian , both pre and post Games, and also get to hear of named and unnamed fellow Olympians' views on the Games, preparation and selection politics. Interesting to hear the different viewpoints of competitors at both historic and more recent Games, as well. i thought I knew who the secret Olympian is/was - but his descriptions of his own experience are suitably vague so as to leave a doubt........great read. Good luck to him, whoever he is(!).
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 5 July 2012
I read this book in 3 days - couldn't put it down.

The author has interviewed Olympians who competed in many different games, from 1968 (Mexico City) onwards, in many different sports (Fencing, Rowing, Hockey etc), meaning the book is accessible to anyone interested in sport.

Funny in parts, touching in others and peppered with anecdotes from the authors own and others Olympic experiences the book allows you to see the Olympics from the perspective of those who compete in it, rather than just watch it like most of us mortals.
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on 24 January 2014
There is so much hype regarding the Olympic Games and so little known about what it takes to be selected to be there for your country.

I'm slightly biased at having competed at such an event for GB thirty years ago, and in reading the book, I'm struck by how much things have progressed over the years.

What is involved in getting to that level has not changed. The harder you work the luckier you get - as one of my coaches told me.

Rather than rabbit on about specific things, I would say that to most folk reading the book, it may be an eye opener into what is involved in getting a keen youngster from being fairly good - to quite good - to very good - to being selected to compete at international level.

There are no short cuts. It really does take the whole of a life to get there.

The book tells it so well and rang so many bells as to what I experienced all those years ago.

A seriously good, unputdownable book.
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on 10 March 2015
The author has plenty to say about his subject, with some interesting snippets on the world of sport and the Olympics, revealing that although money is a dominant driving force in its promotion, there are still individuals who are driven by a desire to honestly win to satisfy personal ambition. However this begs the question .... which ones? He strongly supports the the banning of drugs cheats for life, and it is interesting to read an expert's comments on Lance Armstrong's (7 times Tour de France winner) capacity to perform; recorded before the cyclist was exposed as a serial drugs cheat.
The book covers many aspects of sport, from training programmes to personal attitudes, to personalities. However there is much repetition of similar material., and I found the book, to be like the author's description of the Marathon, a long spell of uninteresting watching, for a short spell of drama.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 July 2012
Fascinating insight into the olympic experience for competitors. Not as scandal-filled as the title might lead you to hope, but it is packed with interesting and amusing anecdotal comments from a wide range of competitors.

Well written, easy to read and entertaining throughout.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 15 May 2012
I second that! The book helps you to imagine each step of the way to the Olympics, wittily describing the tension, fears and emotions through his own and many other interviewee's perspective and then rounds it out with informed speculation of why so many want to do so much for so little.
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