'Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Triumph of the Early Olympic Women' Review

Updated on December 18, 2017
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MsDora, a six-year online writer, shares poetry, creative writing, and reflections on how writing and writers influence our lives.

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

Betty Robinson at Soldier Field in Chicago (Chicago Tribune)
Betty Robinson at Soldier Field in Chicago (Chicago Tribune) | Source

The Book

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)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1101906154
ISBN-13: 978-1101906156
Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
Genre: Sports & Outdoors > Miscellaneous > Women in Sports

The Story

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

L-R: Katharine Maguire of St. Louis, Dolores Boeck of St. Louis, Johnny Weissmuller, champion swimmer from Chicago, and Betty Robinson, sprinter champion from Chicago. (Associated Press)
L-R: Katharine Maguire of St. Louis, Dolores Boeck of St. Louis, Johnny Weissmuller, champion swimmer from Chicago, and Betty Robinson, sprinter champion from Chicago. (Associated Press) | Source

Likeable Features

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.

Recommendation

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.

The Author

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 of Boston.

Disclosure

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.

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    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 7 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Chitrangada for your kind feedback. Glad you were inspired it seems as much as I was.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 7 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

      Great article and wonderful review!

      Thanks for introducing me to this great Olympian-so inspirational. Such stories motivate and inspire us to work harder to achieve our goals in life.

      Thanks for sharing this excellent article!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 7 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Hi Rachelle. You probably are too young to have heard Betty Robinson's name, so I'm glad to bring her to your attention. I checked on Johnny Weissmuller to make sure. He's Tarzan, all right.

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      Rachelle Williams 8 weeks ago from Tempe, AZ

      Thank yo for introducing me to Betty Robinson, I had never even heard of her before. Also, one question...is that the Johnny Weissmuller from Tarzan fame?

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 8 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Stella, you're in for a treat. From the beginning to the end, the story is well told. Thanks for your feedback.

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      Stella Aligizaki 8 weeks ago from Greece

      I will find the book and read it. I teach literature and your book review motivated my interest. Thank you.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Nikki. If you like stories about inspiration and hard work, this is the story for you. I appreciate your feedback.

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      Nikki Khan 2 months ago from London

      Interesting and motivating story,,much inspired by.I like such stories a lot which force you to work hard and achieve.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Bill, glad to feed your Olympics excitement. Yea, we look for the character stories.

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      William Kovacic 2 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Just the kind of rad I need to get excited about the 2018 Olympics. There'll be no track and field in this one, but I'm sure plenty of stories of determination, courage, and challenges. Thanks, Dora.

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      Tamara Yancosky Moore 2 months ago from Uninhabited Regions

      Ya! xxxooo

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Jackie, my interest in this book was really the achievement of women; but the author does a good job of chronicling the life of Betty Robinson and giving us some facts about her teammates.

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      Tamara Yancosky Moore 2 months ago from Uninhabited Regions

      A concise, and well put-together book review. Thank you, Dora. I love watching the Gymnastics, Running, Diving, and Ice Skating, on the Olympics!

      Also, I found you on Pinterest thru your link, and Followed you. Such a lovely smile on your profile picture! Radiant!

      Xxxooo

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      Jackie Lynnley 2 months ago from The Beautiful South

      I know I would like this Dora. I just love knowing about interesting people, sports is good but it could be anything and I do not even have to know of them. Biographies are my big thing but historic things too are big on my list which this certainly is.

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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Laura, what a great idea! I appreciate your input. Thanks!

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      Laura Smith 2 months ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      Interesting. Maybe they will adapt the book into a movie one day.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Kari, you would enjoy the book. It’s historical and inspiring and Betty Robinson’s life is very interesting. Thanks for commenting.

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      Kari Poulsen 2 months ago from Ohio

      This sounds like a book I would enjoy. I have a thing for biographies. :)

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Mary, I just wish that more younger females would pay attention to the attitudes and discipline of those who excelled before them. Wish more of them would read, to begin with.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Devika, this book is a really good read and a great commentary on attitudes in that period. Thanks for your comment.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Linda. Track and Field is also my favorite sport - to watch. Great to see the women who excel.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Yes for the comment and the compliment. Pleased that I found this inspiring book and am able to share it.

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      Mary Wickison 2 months ago from Brazil

      It sounds like this would be an interesting read for many. When we realize how many adversities women had to go through I think it should be essential reading, especially for teenage girls. To show them how determination will always win the day.

      Plus the added newspaper quotes will show how slanted the press was against half the population.

      Great review.

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      Devika Primić 2 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      MsDora you gave me an honest and interesting review. I see your why you highly recommend this book.

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      Linda Crampton 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This certainly sounds like an interesting book. Track and Field is my favourite Olympic event, so I think I would enjoy the book that you describe. Thanks for sharing another review, Dora. They're always interesting.

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      Yves 2 months ago

      Ms. Robinson...what an athlete! I never cease to be amazed at the spirit of individuals who not only survive, but who go on to beat all the odds. Amazing.

      No doubt, this book is worth reading, especially for those who feel that hope is all but lost. Thanks for bringing this story to our attention, Ms. Dora.

      P.S. Love your new hairdo!!!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Manatita. We love men who appreciate women. Thanks for your support.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Peg. I learned so much from this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and I have great appreciation for the trailblazers.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Flourish, if you were to read the book you would laugh out loud at some of the funny things people thought about women in sports. they tried to sound scientific too. You're right about these women paving the way; they did it bravely. thanks for your input.

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      manatita44 2 months ago from london

      An interesting look at the early women runners. She has an unusual pose coming off the blocks and would have perhaps gained a lot from a modern coach.

      Always happy with the achievements of women. It is sad that some countries are still so depressive when it comes to opportunities for women. Things are changing slowly, poco a poco. A great read!

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      Peg Cole 2 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Great review of this important and inspirational book. Betty Robinson serves as a role model for determination and strength in overcoming obstacles. Thanks for sharing your insight on this book.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

      That's one I've never heard before -- that men are more animal-like while women are more plant-like. Snicker, snicker. I wish young women athletes could read this so they could have a deeper appreciation of who paved their way and what those folks had to endure. Never forget where you came from!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Eric. Great legacy here for women, Americans and youth all over the world to follow.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks Bill. Because I have not followed any of these sports, this book provides lots of information, and make me wish I had followed.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Well Louise, you will like this book. The author includes several complementary incidents which are eye-opening, informative and sometimes humorous, all of which make the book interesting. Thanks for your feedback.

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      Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Sounds good to me. Legacy is great stuff.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I started coaching women's volleyball and basketball back in 1978. It's amazing how far those sports have come in that time, and how the quality of play has improved. Wonderful report here, Dora! Very interesting.

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      Louise Powles 2 months ago from Norfolk, England

      That sounds an interesting book to read. This is the sort of book I enjoy reading. Thanks. =)