The Times Olympic Moments book is a wonderful ‘time capsule’

From Jesse Owens’ defiant victory at Berlin 1936 to Dame Sarah Storey’s record 17th title at the Tokyo Paralympics, John Goodbody’s beautiful ‘coffee-table book’ is packed with archive photos and reportage from past Summer Games. SJA secretary Philip Barker enjoys leafing through its 256 pages…

By Philip Barker

Kelly Holmes celebrates gold in the women’s 800 metres final at the Athens 2004 Olympics (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

There are few better qualified to select the most sumptuous Olympic moments than John Goodbody, a familiar and knowledgeable presence at every Games since Mexico 1968.

Wherever possible, the original text which appeared in The Times is reproduced in a sumptuous volume in the same format as similar Times books on the rugby and football World Cups.

There is an undeniable fascination and immediacy about reading exactly how it was reported at the time. Many of the writers are cloaked in the anonymity which was ‘de rigueur’ in The Times right up until the 1970s.

Take a report on light heavyweight boxing from Rome 1960, credited to a “Times Reporter” about “a star in the Olympic Village, revelling in the atmosphere, chatting exuberantly with fellow athletes and having his picture taken with everybody who fancied the experience, including the American singer Bing Crosby.”

The boxer in question was of course Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay at a time of civil rights tension and discrimination in the United States.

“Although Clay knew this, he launched a fierce defence of his homeland, saying: “I got lots of places I can eat – more places I can, than I can’t.””

Goodbody and co-editor Robert Dineen have been wide-ranging in their coverage, but note in their introduction. “Our search of the archives threw up some surprises”.

For example, The Times did not send anyone to Athens for the first modern Olympics in 1896.

The contrast with the wall-to-wall coverage to come at Paris 2024 is emphasised by reports 100 years ago. The 100m gold by Harold Abrahams and 400m victory of Eric Liddell, both so central to “Chariots of Fire,” were “reported with gentlemanly restraint by ‘A Special Correspondent’.”

The book has sections including legends, great teams, duels,innovators and heroes.

In 2012, Goodbody wrote a series on great Olympic moments for serialisation in the Sunday Times, these help add historical context to the four athletics gold medals of Jesse Owens at Berlin 1936 under Hitler’s malevolent gaze.

Few in Britain took note of 1952 football gold medallists Hungary, at least until the following year.

“Hungary overwhelmed all their rivals in Finland, scoring a total of 20 goals and conceding two. The victory over England in 1953 has often been seen as the moment the home of football realised its failings,” Goodbody notes. (Hungary beat England 6-3 at Wembley and 7-1 in Budapest.)

An international approach is evident throughout. There are stories of the Hungarian sabre team in 1960 which included Aladár Gerevich for his seventh and final gold medal aged 50 and the Japanese factory workers volleyball team which became Olympic champions in 1964.

Britain’s golden hockey moments are also here, 1988 for the men, recounted by Sidney Friskin. For the women, Julia Gregory’s story of that nerve-shredding Rio 2016 shootout.

This, Goodbody asserts, “was also a blow against homophobia since two leading members, Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh, were married.”

A broad sporting panorama includes the Goodbody speciality, judo. With Paris on the horizon, French judoka Teddy Riner’s Rio gold is featured.

Paralympians are also included in this pantheon.

“Only really with the 2012 Games did the Paralympics come to prominence in Britain but they have maintained a constant presence in the media in subsequent years,” Goodbody writes.

A cavalcade from Grey-Thompson to Storey and Simmonds and the story of Trischa Zorn, a blind American swimmer who won an astonishing 41 Paralympic gold medals, charts the progress of the “Paras”.

It was a clever touch to include those who overcame physical disability to prevail at the Olympics. These include American Wilma Rudolph, a polio sufferer as a child who won 100m, 200m and relay gold in 1960, Hungarian Károly Takács who learned to shoot with his left hand after losing his right to a grenade accident, and Oscar Pistorius, Olympian and Paralympian.

Goodbody’s “at the time” accounts of Ben Johnson’s disqualification after a positive test following the 100m final and the decision which denied victory to Roy Jones Junior in light middleweight boxing, a verdict described by one official as “criminal”, are both from the 1988 Seoul Games in a chapter on Controversies and Tragedies.

The darkest moment came when terrorists murdered nine members of the Israeli team at Munich 1972.
The report ‘By our Foreign Staff” offers a far more cohesive picture of those traumatic hours than many others at a time when confusion and misinformation often reigned.

The exploits of Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska, all-around champion at a time when Soviet tanks occupied her homeland, have a fresh political resonance today.

So too, the 1936 Korean marathon champion Sohn Kee-Chung, forced to run in Japanese colours and under the name Kitei Son. Goodbody tells how a newspaper in Korea was closed for a year after a picture of Sohn appeared with the Japanese flag omitted.

Perhaps the most famous protest was at Mexico 1968 when American 200m medallists Tommie Smith and John Carlos punched the air and bowed their heads to highlight treatment of African Americans back home.

The photograph is also reproduced on the back cover.

The greatest British moments are well served with Goodbody’s original story from Sydney 2000 as Steve Redgrave won his fifth gold medal. Sir Steve contributes an entertaining foreword.

Coe, Ovett, Thompson, Ainslie, Ennis-Hill, Hoy and Peaty and many others are included along with the record breaking Jason and Laura Kenny who have 12 golds between them.

Goodbody and DIneen have gone out of their way to select pictures not hitherto widely seen. Kelly Holmes swathed in the Union Flag at Athens 2004 adorns the front cover.

This is a wonderful volume destined to grace bookshelves for years to come.

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