Saturday, November 28, 2009

Review of Conquerors of Time

BOOK REVIEW – New Zealand Herald (Friday, November 27, 2009)

Conquerors of Time
Lynn McConnell
Sports Books

What a great shame this book could not find a home in New Zealand.

Veteran sports journalist and prolific author Lynn McConnell (this is his 16th book) formulated the idea for this book as a repudiation of some theories posited in James McNeish's acclaimed novel Lovelock. However, his focus soon changed to the quality of the 1936 1500m final and in particular the quality of the field in what was the first competitive era of middle-distance running.

It is a book whose protagonist is a New Zealand hero, though it is not a New Zealand book as such, and perhaps that is what made potential publishing houses here fidgety. It certainly couldn't have been the quality.

This could be considered the mortar around the Lovelock foundation stones – The Legend of Lovelock (1964), by Norman Harris and As If Running on Air (2008), Lovelock's diaries edited by David Colquhoun – but Conquerors of Time is more than that also.

It is a fascinating study into a golden era of the mile and metric mile, perhaps, alongside the race for the four-minute mile, the golden era.

Lovelock is cast, not surprisingly, as the lead character, but rivals such as Italian Luigi Beccali, Brit Sydney Wooderson and Americans Glenn Cunningham, Bill Bonthron and Gene Venzke do not sit idly in the shadow of Jack's brilliance.

Each enjoys their time in the spotlight, with a number of classic races re-run with the focus on one athlete at a time. There were the Race of the Century series at Princeton, the AAA champs in Britain, the 1500m final in Los Angeles '32 and, of course, the 1936 Olympic final in Berlin.

This is meticulously researched, by the time you have finished there is nothing you will not know about the build-up to the great race. If you like athletics, you will love this. If you enjoy character studies into the men who became the first middle-distance track legends, there is plenty for your too.

One minor criticism is that there is perhaps too much verbatim drawing upon contemporary tracts.

- Dylan Cleaver

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