'Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Triumph of the Early Olympic Women' Review
More than 250 athletes participated in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens (1896) and no woman was included.
When women were officially allowed to participate in the 1900 Olympics in Paris, their events were tennis, golf, archery, and swimming.
Fast forward to the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam when track and field were added to the roster. Betty Robinson was the first woman from the United States, or anywhere, to win an Olympic track and field gold medal. That trailblazing performance in Amsterdam (1928) was the beginning of her journey into the Olympic Hall of Fame (1977).
The Fastest Woman on Earth in 1928
The full title of the book in which Roseanne Montillo tells the story is Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Triumph of the Early Olympic Women. The picture on the front jacket shows Betty Robinson (middle) in her Amsterdam win.
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Crown (October 17, 2017)
Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
Genre: Sports & Outdoors > Miscellaneous > Women in Sports
Montillo includes interesting details of Betty’s childhood in Riverdale, Illinois; of the chance discovery of her athletic ability by the high school coach who watched her run to catch a bus; of the plane crash which left her with injuries which made it seem that she would never walk again, and which caused her to miss the 1932 games; of the outstanding comeback which made her shine in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
She records the efforts and triumphs of other early Olympic women like Babe Didrikson from Beaumont, Texas who watched Betty during the 1928 games, and vowed to achieve a similar feat; Stella Walsh who came from Poland to Cleveland, Ohio in 1911 but competed against America for Poland in 1932; Helen Stephens from St. Louis, Missouri who beat Stella Walsh in 1936.
The details of the women’s efforts, their struggle against gender prejudice, the support of male and female coaches who stood by them, are just some of the story lines which make this book interesting and inspirational. Readers get more than a glimpse of life in that period through Montillo’s episodes of political history, cultural norms and societal attitudes toward women in sports. The story offers inspiration to anyone with the minutest sense of female pride; but in the end Montillo’s tale is one of American pride.
1928 U.S. Olympians
The layout of book presents three sections, one for each of the Olympic Games in 1928, 1932 and 1936. In each section, the chapter headings (18 in total) make it easy for readers to find the events they want to review. The chapter lengths provide helpful breaks in this engaging compilation of sports history.
Throughout the book, Montillo reports newspaper headlines and quotes which take the reader back in time. One such article by Frederick Rand Rogers titled Olympics for Girls? was published one year after the 1928 Olympics. It stated, “Perhaps the most obvious physical difference of all is that men are more animal-like, mobile, energetic, aware while women are more plant-like, more closely attached to the soil, to home, and quieter by nature...Competition, even though undesirable socially, is at least natural to men. In women, it is profoundly unnatural.”
Several other newspaper quotes as well as rumors help the readers realize what the early Olympians were up against, and show the extent to which thoughts about women in sports have evolved.
The book is great motivational material for aspiring youth in any field. Montillo includes the moral and economic shortcomings of the athletes which could have, but did not sabotage their victory.
Older people will love this work for filling in the historical facts they missed, and for giving them a chance to relive the events that inspired hope then and now.
Roseanne Montillo has written two other works of nonfiction, The Lady and her Monsters and The Wilderness of Ruin. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, where she taught courses on the intersection of literature and history. She lives outside Boston.
Through Blogging for Books (http://www.bloggingforbooks.com/), I received this book free from the publisher. There was no request for me to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
© 2017 Dora Weithers