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Review: The Secret Olympian

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.

My Trade is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

This post was filed under: Book Reviews.

Photo-a-day 269: Postcard from @readmatter

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This is the postcard I received today from Bobbie Johnson, co-founder of a brilliant journalistic project I’m supporting called Matter. Perhaps a little bizarrely, I’ve also previously received a postcard from his partner, Anna Pickard, as part of her Snailr project a couple of years ago:

And I sent this postcard in return:

Anyway, there’s something a little odd and something a little lovely about having almost serendipitously exchanged three postcards with a couple I’ve never met. I used to read them both in The Guardian when I was at university, and have followed their articles, blogs, and latterly their Twitter accounts, ever since. In a strange way, I almost feel like I know them, having followed their move to the States and back, and the fairly recent birth of their son.

I hope that this doesn’t freak out either Bobbie or Anna if they come across it… they both seem like lovely people, and I’m a little worried that this post makes me sound a bit like a stalker…! I just thought it was quite a nice story for a rainy Tuesday night.

This post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012.

Photo-a-day 268: Calendars

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This is the first pop-up Calendar Club that I’ve seen this year – and it seems a depressing reminder that Christmas is coming!

Calendar Club has grown at a remarkable pace since the first 12 stores opened in 1998. It now opens over 300 temporary stores every Christmas, and sells over 4 million calendars from a selection of over 3,000 varieties. These days, it even publishes its own calendars under the Other House label.

One of the most remarkable parts of their business model is their store turnaround time: they aim to open within 24hrs of taking a store’s lease. Minimal turn-around times maximise the company’s profit, but also give it a great reputation with retail landlords who typically want to minimise the number of closed units in their malls… which, in turn, gives the company a stronger negotiating position year-on-year, reducing rents and further maximising profits.

This post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , .




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