R.I.P. Denis Ten

2017 Shanghai Trophy

Horrifying news from Kazakhstan that ground-breaking figure skater Denis Ten, a world silver medallist and Olympic bronze medallist (both firsts for his country) has been murdered by two men trying to steal his car’s mirrors.

Ten was only twenty-five, and competed at the Pyeongchang Games this year.

It’s okay to not win!

Winter Olympic Gold Silver Bronze Medals Pyeongchang Korea 2018

Partially because of the recent Winter Olympics, and partially because I’m just interested in it, I’ve recently read quite a few books about Olympic athletes. Some have been young adult books, some new adult, and some very adult. They’ve been about figure skating, snowboarding, swimming…

One thing they all have in common: every character who wants one ends up winning an Olympic gold medal.

Now, readers might see this as the only acceptable end to a book about an aspiring Olympian, but I beg to differ. In fact, I find the gold at the end of many of these books eyeroll-inducing.

I know most authors have no experience with an elite discipline, be it sport of dance or whatever. Nobody – not even the most talented person in history – goes into something ever expecting to make it anywhere near the top. Hoping, yes. Expecting, no.

To be an Olympic champion, all the stars – and then some – have to align. An athlete maybe won’t peak at the right time. They might get injured. Something well beyond their control might mean they miss out.

Many of the world’s best athletes – people who have been world champion multiple times – never win Olympic gold. Many don’t win an Olympic medal of any colour. Some never even make it to the Olympics. I would rather read about a hero or heroine who overcomes struggles in the book and finishes happy with Olympic silver or bronze than to read these impossible fairy tales coming true.

This is especially the case in a romance, when reading about a heroine ending up with gold, multi-million dollar endorsements, AND the perfect guy often reads more like a sixth-grader’s fan fiction fantasy than a book set in the real world.

Here are some real-life stories:

1. US gymnast Shawn Johnson arrived at the 2008 Olympics as the reigning world champion in the all-around, floor, and team events, and was the favourite to bring home a bagful of gold medals. The pressure on her was enormous.

However: she won silver in every event she was expected to take gold in. At only sixteen the media wrote story after story about how she’d failed her big test.

She pulled herself back together, and then – in the very last event on the very last day – surprised everyone by becoming an unlikely champion on the balance beam.

2. Canadian figure skater Elvis Stojko came into the 1998 Olympics as the world champion from three of the previous four years.

However: Secretly sick, injured, and unable to take painkillers because of drug testing, he ended up in second.

3. US figure skater Michelle Kwan won eight world medals – five gold – and is considered one of the best skaters in history.

However: she managed silver in her first Olympics, bronze in her second, and then got injured at the third and didn’t make it onto the ice.

4. Ukrainian gymnast Oksana Omelianchik, competing for the USSR, is considered one of the best in history, and her floor routine is still famous. She is a three-time world champion.

However: she went through a growth spurt, lost some of her technique, and by the time the Olympics came round she was only a reserve and was left off the team.

^^^^^^^^^

For me, these are better stories.

These are amazing athletes with amazing achievements, but their stories are much more interesting and believable. I don’t want to read a book in any genre where everyone is perfect and gets everything. And it seems that authors are frightened to write a book about sport where everything doesn’t turn out perfectly in the end.

I wish they would take a chance.

Recommended Winter Sport Read

The Winter Olympics might be finished, but the Paralympics are still to come.

If you’re still looking for a winter sport-themed read, Treacherous Slopes by Terri Reed is about Olympic ski jumping.

It is a Love Inspired Suspense book, which means it is a shortish romantic suspense with a hint of a Christian theme.

I reviewed the book four years ago, when the last Olympics were on. The blurb is beneath the cover.

Treacherous Slopes by Terri Reed

KILLER COMPETITION

A champion ski jumper, Nick Walsh wants one thing: to win the gold for his late brother. Nick has always blamed himself for his family’s tragic loss—and so does everyone else. To complicate things, sweet and shy reporter Julie Frost insists on doing a story about him. But as Nick gets closer to achieving his dream, someone will do anything to stop him. Somehow, Nick must keep Julie from getting too close as they confront a threat that can destroy them both. Julie and Nick are on the verge of discovering the truth about his brother’s death…unless an unknown murderer finds them first.

Yay, Canada!

Olympic Ice Dance Champions 2018 Tessa Virtue Scott Moir Pyeongchang Korea Canada

Sorry to everyone who comes here for the book reviews! I promise I’m back to regular stuff tomorrow.

However, how can I not have a little celebration for Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir for their incredible (third!) Olympic gold medal win only minutes ago?

Olympic Ice Dance Champions 2018 Tessa Virtue Scott Moir Pyeongchang Korea Canada.

I want to shoot Australian TV executives, who this year have decided to show all the skating on a three-hour delay. However, at least I’m not going to have a breakdown watching it as it happens. I  follow the live scores, and then watch on television, content knowing the results before I see them.

Gold Rush by Jennifer Comeaux

Gold Rush by Jennifer Comeaux

Liza Petrov’s entire life has been about skating and winning her sport’s top prize – Olympic gold. She’s stayed sheltered inside her bubble, not daring to stray from her destined path.

Until she meets Braden Patrick.

He makes her heart flutter with possibility, and for the first time she gets a taste of a normal teenage life. She longs to have both the boy and the gold, but stepping outside her bubble comes with a price. As Liza begins to question both her future and her past, can she stay focused on the present and realize her ultimate dream?

Gold Rush by Jennifer Comeaux

This is a “young” new adult book about a Russian/American girl hoping for figure skating gold at the 2014 Olympics. By “young”, I mean it’s a sweet story (no sex, for example), and the heroine is believably sheltered because of the intense training she has been doing most of her life.

It seems this is the daughter of characters from the author’s earlier series, but that doesn’t matter – I haven’t read those other books yet, and you won’t need to either.

The best thing about Jennifer Comeaux’s writing is that she is a figure skating expert. The author knows *everything* about the sport, and it makes such a difference. I’ve read some other Winter Olympic-themed books recently, and it was great to see how much better Comeaux is at getting the sport right.

The love interest in Gold Rush is a little too perfect to be believable, and the ending is a little predictable, but this would make a great read for young adult fans who are inspired by the current Winter Games.

Second Sport Update!

Jarryd Hughes

I am sure most countries behave like this. In fact, I’ve been in a number of different countries during an Olympic Games, and know they do.

However. Australia picked two male athletes to turn into “superstars”, and nobody else on our Olympic Team mattered. One snowboarder was featured nonstop for MONTHS before these Games, but he did not win a medal in his event today.

A *different* Australian just won the silver medal in Snowboard Cross, but he wasn’t the “right” winner. Even as I type this, they’re interviewing the guy they picked to win a medal, even though he crashed.

This is our third medal, and second silver so far – not bad for a beach country not good at the snow stuff!

So. Here’s to Jarryd Hughes!

More Olympic Stuff

Ukrainian Aljona Savchenko and Frernch Bruno Massot of Germany won gold. Pairs Figure Skating Pyeongchang Winter Olympics Korea 2018

Sorry, but I need to interrupt the book posts again.

Mid-thirties Ukrainian pairs skater Aljona Savchenko – who had to move to Germany to find a partner to skate with – just won gold!

Now, this is great for many reasons, such as the fact she has been around forever, had to move to another country to find a partner…

However… What is amazing is that she is SO much older than your average figure skater. I hear from my parents’ generation that you have to be in your early twenties to achieve anything athletic, but my generation has shown them they are 100% wrong!

Even better, she wasn’t the only over-thirty skater on figure skating medal podium today.

In figure skating events you will find almost nobody is skating for the country they’re actually from. E.g. the Israeli singles ladies skater is American. The Korean male pairs skater is a New Zealander. Savchenko’s skating partner is French, not German!

Australia bizarrely now has the junior world champions in pairs skating, and the female skater is from Russia!

Medal Up: A Winter Games Duology by Nicole Flockton and Fiona Marsden

Medal Up A Winter Games Duology by Nicole Flockton and Fiona M Marsden

Two couples tread on thin ice at the Pyeongchang Winter Games in this captivating duology—but love has Olympic-sized impact on their dreams.

Fighting Their Attraction: Snowboarder Brady Thompson landed in Seoul favored to win elusive gold. But instead of fresh powder, he finds that a past he can’t escape is twisting his half-pipe into knots. Figure skater Arielle Baldwin is determined to win a medal so she can walk away from her coach mom’s stranglehold on her life. Can a good girl and a bad boy reaching for their dreams make for a dynamic duo?

Man of Ice: How can the Games go so wrong for friendly, upbeat Maybelle Li? Her ex-skating partner is raining on her parade with memories of the past, and her current partner, Bohdan Dovzhenko, is the hottest thing to hit the ice this decade—and the coldest companion. He’s all work and no conversation beyond grunts and commands. But as their medal hopes rise, so does Bohdan’s word count. He’s not made of stone, and being locked outside of Belle’s sunshine is simply no fun. Now their growing closeness may be too hot to dismiss—but will it burn down their chance to forge a new future as well?

Medal Up: A Winter Games Duology by Nicole Flockton and Fiona Marsden

Tara Lipinski Nagano Winter Olympic Games 1998 Triple Toe Half Loop Triple Salchow

Gratuitous Tara Lipinski winning 1998 Olympic gold GIF!

I went into Medal Up with some apprehension, as I am hugely familiar with the main themes of the book, which meant I was going to be hyperaware of any errors. I did get distracted by those aspects in the end, though I have enjoyed both these authors before.

Medal Up is actually two connected stories set at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Each one could be a standalone, but they’re quick reads with characters making appearances in both.

The reasons I was apprehensive:

#1 All the main characters are either figure skaters, or former figure skaters, and I have followed the sport closely for decades.

#2 One of the male leads has a full-on Ukrainian name. My family is from Ukraine, and with the ongoing war and the barrage of Russian anti-Ukrainian propaganda still permeating the world’s media, it is SO important to me that authors write the truth.

#3 Most of the main characters are Australian – as am I.

#4 The book is – duh! – set in Korea, where I used to live. I think that in the second story Fiona Marsden made a decent effort to fit a little bit of general information about Korea in, but otherwise there’s a tight focus on the main (non-Korean) characters. Nobody’s eating kimchi or watching K-Pop, for example!

My first big issue comes up on the very first page of the book:

Ukrainian and Russian are NOT interchangeable. They’re different ethnic groups, and have different cultures, different languages, and – most importantly – Ukraine and Russia are different countries. This is the heart of the – ongoing – Russian invasion that began four years ago.

When it comes to the sporting aspects of the plot, I have no idea what the authors did or didn’t know before writing this book, but some artistic leeway has to be given.

You will have to suspend your disbelief to accept that so many Australian figure skaters in the story are world champions and Olympic medal contenders (because, yeah… we’ve never been very good at that sport!). I did love the casual references to the AIS and Canberra and all of that, however.

On the other hand, these skaters were crap! Nobody makes it to the Olympics with a basic double Lutz as the feature jump in their program. You’ll only see a skater at this level do it as a mistake. Whenever the double Lutz was referred to I got the voice of Lexie from 1978’s Ice Castles in my head, laughing as she says ‘She can’t do a triple!’.

Here is Tara Lipinski doing the first of her two *triple* Lutz jumps in her free skate twenty years ago, at the Nagano Games:

Tara Lipinski Nagano Winter Olympic Games 1998 Triple Lutz Double-Toe

In order for this to be a book for adults, the skaters are a little older than many who win medals at this level (e.g. Lipinski was fifteen in 1998, and the silver medallist that year was seventeen, and Ukraine’s Oksana Baiul was sixteen when she became Olympic Champion). I can understand this, though: otherwise it would be young adult fiction!

And, in order for the romances to happen, the characters don’t know each other before the Games. This isn’t possible. Every skater would know the name, age, and accomplishments of every other skater for the last thirty years. It would be impossible not to know everything about each other in advance.

As you can see, I got very distracted by facts and technicalities. It’s the reason I’m also extremely apprehensive about reading ballet-themed books – I know too much about the subject.

Medal Up is an easy, fast read that will satisfy people inspired by the Olympic season. Just try to not be as picky as I was!

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Go Canada!

Tessa Virtue Scott Moir Team Event Ice Dance Figure Skating Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 12th February 2018

Breaking up my regular book coverage to say: I am SO happy about Canada winning the gold in the weird new (as of 2014) team figure skating event at the Olympics. SO well-earned.

I do think this whole team thing is a tad ridiculous, and it leads to figure skating overkill before the real events even happen, but I am very glad to see both Canada and the US on the medal podium.

I am equally frustrated Russia was allowed into this event. How can a country that is allegedly banned from the Olympics this year be fielding a team for their country?!

How much Kremlin money reached IOC hands in order for this to be allowed to happen? Ugh.

The best thing about the Olympics being in Korea (other than that I used to live there, and am having a sort of “reverse homesickness” for the country), is that we’re basically in the same time zone, so I can watch live events at sane times!

Now, if only the Australian – and likely other English-speaking – commentators could stop mispronouncing place names…