Three Great Books to Celebrate the Olympics

It’s Olympics time! Have you all been glued to your televisions and various electronic devices for the last 5 days? Or, conversely, have you been dodging your televisions and electronic devices, trying to avoid spoilers?

Either way, the Olympics are one of my favorite things. And while it’s tons of fun rooting for all the current big names (Michael Phelps! Kerri Walsh! Gabby Douglas!) it’s also worth spending a few minutes remembering some great Olympic athletes from the past who paved the way. Here are three to start with:

Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds1. Sammy Lee (Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds): Diver Sammy Lee was born on August 1, 1920 in Fresno, California. Growing up, Sammy was barred from the public pool six out of seven days of the week because he was not white; despite that, Lee became a world-class diver and at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, became the first Asian American to win a gold medal. There’s a great picture of Sammy Lee, now 91, in this now-and-then piece on athletes from the last London Olympics.

Jim Thorpe's Bright Path2. Jim Thorpe (Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path)Jim Thorpe is often described as one of the greatest athletes of the twentieth century. He was born in 1887 to a Pottowatomie mother and Sac/Fox father, and was sent to an Indian boarding school when he was very young. He eventually began playing football and running track under the eye of the famous coach Pop Warner at Carlisle Indian School, and in 1912 won gold medals in the Pentathlon and Decathlon at the summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.

Surfer of the Century3. Duke Kahanamoku (Surfer of the Century): Born in Hawaii, Duke Kahanamoku started off as a surfer and learned how to swim in the warm waters of the Pacific ocean. While swimming in the ocean one day, he was discovered by an attorney named Bill Rawlins who thought he could make Duke a star. Rawlins coached Duke all the way to the 1912 Olympics in Sweden. Duke later competed in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium and 1924 Olympics in Paris, France. In all, he won three gold medals, two silver medals, and one bronze, and held the record as the fastest swimmer in the world for twelve years.

It’s heartening to see so many countries this year bringing female athletes as part of their delegations for the first time – here’s hoping that decades from now there will be a whole new set of athletes we can celebrate who have broken records inside and outside the stadium!