CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 6 . . . .November 9, 2007
Gold Medal for Weird.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2007.
48 pp., pbk., $7.95.
Grades 2-7 / Ages 7-12.
Review by Tanya Boudreau.
Sometimes the fans can shut down a whole competition.
The 2004 gymnastics competition in Athens was packed every night-and the fans knew their stuff. During the men's final, Russia's Alexei Nemov received ridiculously low marks.
The fans booed. And booed. And booed. Officials asked for quiet.
The crowd got louder. Finally, the judges changed their scores, admitting their mistake. Or maybe they were just trying to get the folks to shut up.
From as far back as 3000 years, the best athletes of the summer and winter Olympic Games have been publicly acknowledged and awarded medals for their stellar performances. Ancient Olympic winners were awarded olive wreaths, and some received free food for life. In recognition of their skills, they had statues erected in their likenesses and poems composed with their names. The modern Olympians receive gold, silver and bronze medals, and lots of publicity. Author Kevin Sylvester is knowledgeable about a lesser celebrated side of the Olympics. His plunge into Olympic history brought up the Olympic oddities, and when compiled, he bestowed on them his Gold Medal for Weird. The people, ideas and events selected for Sylvester's book were chosen for their unusualness. The stories range from scandalous to silly, from victorious to valiant.
They expected recognition for winning; instead they got reputations for cheating. Fred Lorz wanted to win the marathon during the 1904 Olympics, but when he cramped up, he took a drive to the finish line. Ben Johnson has been banned for life from the Olympics after testing positive for drugs not once but twice, and in the 2000 Paralympics, the Spanish basketball team won by pretending to have disabilities. The mental-disabilities category has since been eliminated from the Paralympics.
Other victories occurred by more mysterious means. Did the loonie placed under the ice by the ice-making crew help the Canadian men and women's hockey team win the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City? For the 1900 Dutch rowing pairs team, the mystery involved the identity of their coxswain. Pulled from the crowd at the last minute, his loud rhythmic shouts helped the team win. Although he posed for a photograph after the win, his name and age were never known or discovered.
The section entitled "Stretch Your Credulity" celebrates the finest in incredible, seemingly impossible wins. Age wasn't an issue for Oscar Swahn. He was winning at the age of 60. John Pius Boland played recreational tennis, but, in 1896 while on vacation, he decided to give the Olympics a try. He competed in the singles and doubles titles in Greece, and he won! Two stories in this section involve the breaking of winning streaks in ice hockey and wrestling, and one story involves a snowboarder who was lucky to come in second place.
Despite uncommon injuries, interfering fans, and unfortunate accidents, some of the athletes came out victorious. Greg Louganis's continuation in the diving competition, despite a diving board accident, won him a gold medal at the 1988 games. Vanderlei de Lima won third place after a fan tackled him during the 2004 Athens marathon, and Sylvie Frechette was finally given a gold metal for her 1992 synchronized swimming performance after it was revealed a judge pushed the wrong button on the score pad.
In the future, Kevin Sylvester might be awarding more Gold Medals for Weird involving Olympic sport category hopefuls, korfball, wushu, and bandy. If bridge is chosen, it wouldn't have weather catastrophes like those during the 1988 games in Calgary when high winds were the cause of toppling skiers and postponed games. A dance sport category might result in funny clothing stories though like those in the 1904 and 2000 Olympics.
Kevin Sylvester wrote and illustrated Sports Hall of Weird. In addition to being a reporter, Kevin is also a radio sports host and documentary maker. Gold Medal for Weird consists of over 85 one-page stories. Each story is framed and illustrated with a black and white cartoon-like drawing. The frames resemble a scratched border, and the illustrations, which range from cute to comical, reflect their stories in some way. A few of the stories have an additional piece at the end called "funky facts." These act as updates to the stories.
Readers should note there is no indication in the book of resources consulted. However, Gold Medal for Weird is a fun book to read and to share. For the most part, these Gold Medals of Weird are safe. Everyone can relax because no one will be training to win one, and there will be no rivals to worry about. These records (and their stories) will stand.
Tanya Boudreau is the librarian at the Cold Lake Public Library in Cold Lake, AB.
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