#39 “Not For Glory, Not For Gold” by Keith Miles

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  1. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  2. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  3. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  4. Not For Glory, Not For Gold – Keith Miles
  5. The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons
  6. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger
  7. The Green Mile – Stephen King
  8. Tiger Men – Judy Nunn
  9. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
  10. The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion
  11. The Bane Chronicles  – Cassandra Clare et al
  12. Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz
  13. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Greetings from tropical Queensland! For all of my friends from across the pond, this is where you come for your quintessential Australian experience. It is ridiculously hot and humid, the water lingers a few degrees either side of “cool”, and there is always the possibility of being stung by some deadly jellyfish. Plus, this is where the Great Barrier Reef is. I’m currently staying at the tail end of the Reef. Not quite as many tourists, which is always a plus.

I finished Not For Glory, Not For Gold in one of those weird lulls that happen on holiday. It actually felt fairly holiday-esque to sit there for almost an hour and read while the sun was still up. It felt especially delicious because I was lounging around reading a book about running.

I know, right? Why was I reading a book about running? Well, after I finished The Green Mile, I was still at my mate’s place. His mum was the one who lent me The Green Mile and I think he just wanted me to read something of his. Anyway, as he handed it to me he said that is was “a great book”. I’ve taken a few books on at his insistence and they’ve all turned out OK, so I took him at his word.

This is Robert Bannister passing John Landy in that “Mile of the Century” in 1954. Landy was so sure of himself that he turned around to see just how much he was winning by. Funny thing is, that this image has now been immortalised in stone. This is now a statue in Vancouver.

Not For Glory, Not For Gold is about the battle to beat the four minute mile back in the 1950s. Three men, all considered the best “milers” in the world, were the focus of this book. There was Roger Bannister, an Englishmen studying to be a doctor while competing at an international level; Wes Santee, an American runner who had suceeded at having an international athletics career despite restrictions from the American athletics officials; and John Landy, the Aussie who was studying agriculture while training. We do get alternate POVs, such as various coaches, parents, and other competitors, but Landy, Santee, and Barrister are our main protagonists. In fact, in the end, it all boiled down to Landy and Barrister.

Not For Glory, Not For Gold covers an extraordinarily long timeframe. It starts at the beginning of Franz Stampfl’s career as an athletics coach and it ends just after the Miracle Mile race of 1954. A race in which the four minute mile was broken twice. It was the height of athletics at its time and made an obvious conclusion for the book. Everything seemed to culminate in that one race, on that one day. We see the rivalry between Bannister, who had been the first to break the mile; and Landy, who had beaten Bannister’s time two months later, at its most competitive. We see the indifference of the spectators toward any other event on that day in Vancouver (the race took place during the Empire Games). And we also see how terribly athletes were treated via the collapse of the magnificent marathon man, Jim Peters.

Miles (and what an awesome coincidence that Miles’ last name is, well, Miles) does an amazing job at playing with the threads of this historical period. As we know, reality doesn’t have themes. But Miles managed to find themes, play them out in subplots and multiple POVs, and then tie them all together in a nice little bow. Now, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction but to me, this book was put together with the finesse of a maestro directing an orchestra. There were so many characters (who all existed!) and so many subplots that Miles really had to work to make everything make sense. The planning that would have gone into this story blows my mind every time I think about it. And reminds me why I write fiction, not reality.

However, I didn’t realise all of this until I was seeing Peters falling about on the track after his horrific race in the final pages. In the middle section of the book I was struggling to figure out what Miles’ point was. There were so many balls in the air that I couldn’t figure out which one I was supposed to catch. Was I rooting for Landy or Bannister? Did I feel sorry for the unofficial Australian coach, Percy Cerutty? Did I like Stampfl’s pride and obstinance? Who was I supposed to care about? I think Miles wanted the reader to have such a full an understanding of athletics seventy odd years ago that he never steered us in any particular direction. We got to make up our own minds about which team we supported. Miles passed no judgement, but merely reported the facts.

I’ve always been amazed by creators of sports movies and TV shows and, well, books and how they make me care about a subject I would never really care about otherwise. For instance, The Blind Side is one of my favourite movies and it’s all about American football.  I can’t really pin down a “why” of this, but I think it boils down to how well the various creators portray their protagonists’ passion for the sport. That passion is easy to relate to for everyone, since everyone is passionate about something. Miles absolutely nailed the passion side of athletics and therefore, absolutely nailed my interest. I would read this book again. And I hate watching sports.

So I give this, “The Athletics Novel of the Century” (published in 1986):

★★★★

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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