Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd- Kyle Keiderling

(Reviewed by Ishita RC)

One momentous day. And two lives were forever linked.
At the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles, a raucous crowd of ninety thousand saw their favorite in the women’s three-thousand-meter race, Mary Decker, go down. An audience of two billion around the world witnessed the mishap and listened to the instantaneous accusations against the suspected culprit, Zola Budd.

Just seventeen, the South African Budd had already been the target of a vicious and vocal campaign by the anti-apartheid lobby after she transferred to the British team in order to compete at the games. Decker, at twenty-six, was America’s golden girl, ready to overcome years of bad luck and injuries to rightfully take the Olympic gold for which she had waited so long. With three laps to go, Decker and Budd’s feet became tangled. Decker went down and didn’t get up, wailing in primal agony as her gold medal hopes vanished.

Although both women found success after the Olympics, neither could escape the long shadow of the infamous event that forever changed both of their lives and continues to define them in popular culture to this day.

“This isn’t a tale of heroic feats… It’s about two lives running parallel for a while, with common aspirations and convergent dreams.” – Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna, The Motorcycle Diaries (2005)

This quote perfectly defines the two legendary sportswomen. What a book!!! I was simply spellbound from the moment I started reading. A chronicle of two legends, miles apart and differing in age and yet both defined by their personalities that started at home but differed in how they persevered. The author captured the sportsmanship of track runners beautifully, the physical toils that we don’t often see or imagine and the amount of training and dedication it requires to be a success in their respective domains.

The style of writing is perfect to describe two different personalities who have only one thing in common: they love to run and they run to be free. There is no commentary required for any characterisation here because this is not one of those fictional books where you look at how the character develops; this is a true story of two legends. The title and the cover image are therefore perfect. This is one of those books that show a clear thought process when it comes to writing, and clarity and determination it takes to research the content.

Favorite quote:
Thipe was black, and the camaraderie they enjoyed out in the countryside was not permitted in Bloemfontein – or indeed anywhere else in South Africa. Apartheid was still the law of the land, and such associations were not acceptable. But Zola learned a different lesson from this friendship, and as she later put it, “My relationship with Thipe taught me, early on, that the color of a person’s skin is not what’s important.”

Just as Mary Decker’s move with her family to Southern California would have tremendous impact on her development as a runner, so too Zola Budd’s birthplace influence her subsequent career. In Budd’s case, the happenstance of being born in South Africa would dog her steps on track like a fast runner she couldn’t shake off no matter how she tried. “

Olympic Collision is absolutely a perfect book that I am going to rave and recommend to one and all. I would have, of course, preferred to see more images related to track events to make it a bit more personal.

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