I’m not sure why this book’s author wanted to remain anonymous. Perhaps he’s a particularly shy individual. Perhaps he felt it would threaten his future career. Perhaps it was a marketing ploy. But it certainly can’t have been because of any shocking revelations or accusations made in the book, because there simply aren’t any. And, actually, the associated coyness around mentioning the sport in which he competes makes this book lack a little something. The anonymity is a shame.
That said, it does give a great insight into the life and psyche of an Olympian, much of it backed up by descriptions from named competitors. He describes sometimes a crippling doubt about sporting ability that apparently affects most Olympians; the challenge of a whole career resting on a performance lasting just minutes or seconds; the extraordinary commitment needed to reach the top in a given sport.
The Secret Olympian also gives a compelling description of how National Lottery funding has transformed professional sport in the UK. Through interviews with Team GB competitors before and after 1994, he’s able to document the transition from the former attitude of “turn up and have a go” to the professionalism that dominates sport today. And he peppers the early part of the book with the interesting descriptions of how Olympians found their sport, sharing the perhaps surprising fact that few of them excelled at sport at school.
There is, as one would expect, detailed descriptions of the seemingly absurd excesses of life as an Olympian: the masses of free kit, the gallons of free Powerade, the inside-story (also well-described elsewhere) of life inside the Olympic village. Though, clearly, this book can’t give the inside-track on London 2012, as it was written well before that got underway.
I’ve said before that I like reading about other people’s jobs, and I guess this fits into that category. Reading it while the country is gripped by Olympic fever might have coloured my opinions, I guess, but I certainly thought it was a worthwhile read. I’d recommend it.