Saturday, November 28, 2009

Review of Conquerors of Time

BOOK REVIEW – New Zealand Herald (Friday, November 27, 2009)

Conquerors of Time
Lynn McConnell
Sports Books

What a great shame this book could not find a home in New Zealand.

Veteran sports journalist and prolific author Lynn McConnell (this is his 16th book) formulated the idea for this book as a repudiation of some theories posited in James McNeish's acclaimed novel Lovelock. However, his focus soon changed to the quality of the 1936 1500m final and in particular the quality of the field in what was the first competitive era of middle-distance running.

It is a book whose protagonist is a New Zealand hero, though it is not a New Zealand book as such, and perhaps that is what made potential publishing houses here fidgety. It certainly couldn't have been the quality.

This could be considered the mortar around the Lovelock foundation stones – The Legend of Lovelock (1964), by Norman Harris and As If Running on Air (2008), Lovelock's diaries edited by David Colquhoun – but Conquerors of Time is more than that also.

It is a fascinating study into a golden era of the mile and metric mile, perhaps, alongside the race for the four-minute mile, the golden era.

Lovelock is cast, not surprisingly, as the lead character, but rivals such as Italian Luigi Beccali, Brit Sydney Wooderson and Americans Glenn Cunningham, Bill Bonthron and Gene Venzke do not sit idly in the shadow of Jack's brilliance.

Each enjoys their time in the spotlight, with a number of classic races re-run with the focus on one athlete at a time. There were the Race of the Century series at Princeton, the AAA champs in Britain, the 1500m final in Los Angeles '32 and, of course, the 1936 Olympic final in Berlin.

This is meticulously researched, by the time you have finished there is nothing you will not know about the build-up to the great race. If you like athletics, you will love this. If you enjoy character studies into the men who became the first middle-distance track legends, there is plenty for your too.

One minor criticism is that there is perhaps too much verbatim drawing upon contemporary tracts.

- Dylan Cleaver

Monday, November 16, 2009

First great era of miling studied in new book

Conquerors of Time is the story of the first great era of miling from 1932-1936 and culminating in the 1500m at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

It is the story of the runners who combined to achieve one of the most competitive eras in the sport, predominantly from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and resulting in the most eagerly awaited event at the Berlin Games.

Forget Jesse Owens' triumph, that was expected in the 100m, 200m and long jump. What the masses were waiting for was the race that pitted the Americans, headed by the world record-breaking supremo Glenn Cunningham, Gene Venzke and Archie San Romani, the defending champion from Italy, Luigi Beccali, the Englishmen Sydney Wooderson and the silver medalist in 1932 Jerry Cornes, the Canadian from British Guiana, Phil Edwards and the New Zealander who was a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford University, Jack Lovelock.

Their races, their ups, their downs, their injuries, their lives are all looked at in depth in the lead-up to the race which was going to take a world record to win, but who would the winner be? Even Adolf Hitler didn't want to miss the race, and it was held up while he took his place in his official box.

A revolutionary tactic was unleashed to claim the race, a tactic still in vogue among the top competitors in the 1500m nowadays. Author Lynn McConnell, in his 16th book, studies the lead-up to the event, the plotting that went into winning the race and brings to light new information in the understanding of this unique brotherhood of athletes.

Their lives after the race also provide much fascinating material and McConnell has spanned the globe in the search for information to bring the characters to life. Families have been a great source of information and the story unfolds in a compelling example of sport from a golden era.