The Austerity Olympics by Janie Hampton

51sTOEm7dpL._SY445_ London 2012: in the run-up to the Olympic Games the British public was convinced it was going to cost too much and be a complete disaster. Oddly enough, the mood before London 1948 was much the same, in a world emerging from war, with food still rationed and a bomb-scarred capital hosting an event designed to bring peace and harmony to all peoples (German athletes weren’t invited). There’s always something else to spend money on, I suppose. In her account of The Austerity Olympics, Janie Hampton immediately creates a structural problem which cannot really be resolved: she begins at the beginning and ends at the end. It’s an unimaginative approach, condemning the reader to root out points of great interest by sifting through pages and pages which are essentially saying much the same thing as one another: just because you do the research doesn’t mean the reader has to see all of it. It’s hard to believe that Hampton left a great deal on the cutting-room floor: there is a limit to how many quotes one needs to hear on how the athletes made their own uniforms/couldn’t get time off work/weren’t used to meeting foreigners – illuminating though this is, the first two or three times. You feel like a marathon participant, convinced there is nothing left in the tank but willing the body forward to complete the course. It’s far from a disaster. But it could have been so much better.  A little more on Micheline Ostermeyer, discus thrower and concert pianist – concert pianist! – would have been rewarding, for example. And if you can battle through to the end, there is a moving afterword in which Hampton picks out a few of the key figures – like the extraordinary Fanny Blankers-Koen, the 30-year old housewife who won four athletics gold medals, and the distance running legend Emil Zatopek – whose stories are simply wonderful. It’s a frustrating look at what could have been, given a bit more zest. Hampton has a light, wry turn of phrase at times – especially when offering a raised eyebrow at the IOC’s refusal to mess up its manicure by getting to grips with politics, its morally dubious bigwig Avery Brundage in particular – but the overall effect is terribly stodgy.

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