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Something in the Air: American Passion and Defiance in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics Hardcover – September 22, 2009
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Examples: He credits Ray Norton with a "100 meter time of 9.3 seconds". Nope, 100 yards.
He says Jim Ryun was 5 meters behind Keino at the 800 mark in the 1,500 and says "the race had gotten away from him." Yes, it had - but because he was actually 18 meters back, according to Track and Field News's report on the race. Five meters would not have been a big gap, as a sportswriter surely should know.
He writes at length about Dick Fosbury's winning performance in the high jump and says that the first marathoner, Mamo Wolde, was just entering the stadium as Fosbury began his approach. His point: The appearance of the marathon winner usually got huge applause but did not in this case because of the crowd's focus on Fosbury. But Hoffer goes on to describe the reaction of Kenny Moore, the American who finished over 9 minutes behind Wolde. He says Moore was coming on the track when Fosbury jumped and reacted with delight to the crowd's cheering for Fosbury's leap. So... Fosbury's run-up took over 9 minutes?
Concerning Fosbury's revolutionary flop style of jumping, Hoffer says: "Neither his jump nor the straddle was inherently superior." Yet every single world class jumper for decades has used only the "Flop" as have virtually all jumpers at every level.
He has the high jump bar going up "quarter inch by quarter inch" which he says is "actually 5 centimeters". But, as his own context on the same page shows, each 5 centimeter elevation was close to 2 inches.
In one sentence Hoffer has Lynn Davies winning gold in the broad jump in '64 and Ralph Boston winning silver - and Igor Ter Ovanesian beating Boston there by 4 centimeters. Where did Ter Ovanesian place? 1 1/2?
He mentions "pole vaulter John Thomas" - who was actually a great high jumper -and "Bob Beamon the high jumper" even though he later writes at length about Beamon's awesome long jumping.
He says "Bob Beamon's father was in Sing Sing when he was conceived...." Well, not unless they had conjugal visits in those days, which I seriously doubt.
He locates San Jose as north of Sacramento.
He twice mentions the great '50s basketball player Paul Arizon - a career sportswriter who doesn't know how to spell the name of an all-time great: Arizin.
In describing the anchor leg of the 4x200 relay in swimming he says: "So what was supposed to be a Spitz-Schollander duel...." - which would have been quite a feat since they were both on the U.S. team.
These are some of those I caught. How many did I miss? Why didn't Hoffer, or someone at his publisher with a little knowledge of sports, proofread this book. And, as I said, was he as careless when he reported the recollections of Beamon, Carlos, et al?
I'm disappointed since I followed the events of that year closely. I wrote a letter to Track and Field News early in the year sympathising with those considering a possible boycott. (It's available on-line, plus I still have the issue from '68 - not a prettied up memory.) I began this book with high expectations. Some were met but the inexcusable lack of fact-checking and proofreading made me doubt the over-all accuracy of Hoffer's reporting.
My main criticism of Hoffer's book is that it is quite uneven. There are some strong parts, specifically the chapters about Fosbury, Smith and Carlos. On the other hand, his coverage of Beamon and Foreman did not provide nearly the depth and dimension that I expected and was a letdown when compared to the previously mentioned athletes. By far the most enlightening part of the book centered on Avery Brundage, an American who was head of the IOC. Brundage tried to maintain iron-fisted control of the Games and keep absolute order in what was the first Olympics in a developing nation --- and before the vast commercialization that the Olympics have become today.
Overall, Hoffer's book is a solid contribution, but has enough holes to only be 4 stars. It is a quick read and contains enough back stories to be worth the time.
The tensions of the time were very apparent in sports, with the civil rights and women's movements gained velocity by the second, it seemed. Take a changing society, and mix it with an amateur athletic bureaucracy that didn't accept change easily, and you have the makings for fascinating confrontation.
That was the case for the 1968, particularly when it came to the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. And that's the backdrop for Richard Hoffer's frequently fascinating book, "Something in the Air."
The American Olympic team goes under the microscope here, and Hoffer must have been filled with glee as he went through the cast of characters that converged south of border that fall. A book like this relies on the athletes and the stories, and Hoffer found a bunch of good ones.
The author focuses on the United States track and field team. We had sprinters like Tommie Smith and John Carlos, forever remembered for their wordless protest about conditions back home while on the podium during the National Anthem at the medal ceremony. Gloved fists in the air and heads down, it became a remarkable moment almost instantly. The two sprinters had been involved in talk of a boycott of the Games beforehand; their attendance, performance and action proved much more effective as support for their cause. Smith and Carlos were great stories in their own right, overcoming much to rank as the world's best.
The other stories on the track team are good too. Dick Fosbury invented a whole new way of jumping over a bar in the high jump. Jim Ryun ran the race of his life in the 1,500 meters, only to be remember for losing to Kip Keino. The women's track team, which basically consisted of the Tennesee State squad, cleaned up at the podium despite oldfashioned beliefs that women shouldn't run very far.
The other sports come up as well, although they have a secondary role. The most interesting story there might belong to George Foreman, who first burst onto the national scene in Mexico City. Foreman became something of an establishment hero for waving an American flag after winning a gold medal. While most thought it was a counterpoint to the Smith/Carlos protest, Foreman says today that his action was his own protest toward prejudice against American boxers by Olympic judges. And I particularly liked the portions on the Harvard crew team, filled with bright, questioning intellects who were determined to have a good time along the way.
Hoffer covers all of this with a sharp, intelligent eye. His observations on the times and on the Games are always on target; I particularly liked his description of the Olympics as something of a mortuary for old sports (equestrian events? Greco-Roman wrestling?).
The book's only flaw is that there are a few small factual errors that pop up along the way. Some high jumpers become long jumpers and vice verse, and a few lessons about geography and distance conversion (centimeters to inches, for example) would have been useful.
While those slip-ups prevented a five-star rating, this is the type of book that almost forces the reader to gulp down in big swallows. "Something in the Air" fills in the gaps of an already-fascinating event, and makes it more compelling in hindsight. That's about all you can ask from any book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
about the events. At the time, I, like a lot of americans, thought the atheletes
My only response is the following. If my submission is not satisfactory, or does not make the grade, PLEASE DISCONTINUE...Read more