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How To Watch the Olympics

A book that makes the perfect guide to the Olympics, past and present.

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How To Watch the Olympics:
The Essential Guide to the Rules, Statistics, Heroes, and Zeroes of Every Sport
By David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton
Penguin Group
400 pp.

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Tug of war used to be an Olympic event. It had all the rules, regulations, and rituals of any other sport, as well as the scandals (spiked footwear was an issue). In fact, the very first black Olympian competed in the tug of war of 1900: a Frenchman named Constantin Henriquez de Zubiera. Alas, tug of war was dropped in 1920.

How to Watch the Olympics: The Essential Guide to the Rules, Statistics, Heroes, and Zeroes of Every Sport is rich in intriguing background. Co-written by David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton, it is the sort of timely title one expects to find unleashed “just in time” for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

And yet, this is a wonderfully entertaining and informative read, one that caught me incessantly putting “Did you know ...” questions to my friends. Did you know shot put has its roots in throwing cannonballs? Did you know the steeplechase began as an Irish race with participants running between churches? Did you know the oldest Olympic gold medalist was 53? (She was British archer Sybil Newall who smoked the 1908 London Olympics).

Such peeks into larger stories about the evolution of individual sports and the Olympic tournament do not come without context. “How to Watch the Olympics” moves evenly through the Games, with chapters on each ceremony and each summer sport. It’s laid out with sidebars, graphics, appendixes, and photos. There is a concise narration of the status of each event: rules, strategy, record-holders, and history. Like any good guidebook, “How to Watch the Olympics” gives us times, places, and dates for London events, but it’s the well-told stories that are best. We learn, for example, what Minoan bull-jumping has to do with modern gymnastics, why South Korea dominates archery, and what the British royal family has to do with the distance of a marathon.

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