The Secret Olympian - Anon


Mark Haddon

"An irresistible proposition ... an insight into the life and mindset of a professional athlete. Anon shows us something more real: the myths, absurdity, frailty and futility that are the constant companions of the all or nothing, four yearly bid for sporting immortality"

John Crace,



As some of my previous reviews with attest to, I enjoy reading books about sporting accomplishments. Whilst searching for the auto-biography of one of the London 2012 Team GB rowing squad a couple of months ago, 'The Secret Olympian' popped-up on Amazon's 'Customers Who Also Bought This Item' feed; I had seen it mentioned by a few rower types I follow on Twitter and that, combined with the title, made me hit the 'Buy' button.

I challenge anyone to read this book to not at least have a go at working out who the author is. The title and the author being 'Anon' just make you want to play 'Poirot'. It amused me just now reading the Guardian review of this book to discover the reviewer had been through the same detective steps as me. However, I do know a lot more of the rowing squad from Athens and, thanks to my previous rowing reads, I am quite confident I have worked out who Anon is. Whether I have reviewed the relevant book though, I'm afraid I cannot say...

Of course, there is much more to the book than just trying to guess the author. During the 223 pages that make-up 'The Secret Olympian', Anon takes us on a tour of the 'real' Olympics - the Olympics that athletes get to see and experience. Having read a lot about the training regimes of the GB Rowing Squad, some of the stories of training were not astonishing to me. Of course, they are impressive, but the aspects of the book I enjoyed more were about the challengings with doping (at the Olympics but more generally across elite sport) and Sports Psychology, especially the concept of 'Athletic Identity'; This is where an athlete's world revolves so significantly around their sport / training that the sport 'becomes' their identify, leaving them with little or no sense of self when they eventually retire.

It is also fascinating to read about, thanks to the stories of numerous former Olympians (some medalists, some not), how the Olympics has changed over the years. As with everything, they have of course become more commerical. But, they have to the extent that athletes can only wear approved kit with approved branding and logos. This wasn't that much of a shock having seen logos taped over on hand-dryers etc. at the London 2012 venues. But, imagine not being able to wear your favourite racing socks because they weren't approved kit!

This book is very easy to read and is at a suitably generic level that it requires no detailled knowledge of any specific sport. As long as you have, at some point, watched the Olympics, this book will have relevance to you. There is also much to be taken from the book in to real life. I think the line that will stay with me the most is 'Control the Controllables'. I'll leave it for you to read the book to establish the context, but I think we can all apply that to real life - no point in worrying about what you cannot influence or change!



Reviewed on 05/11/2012 by Angela


Reviewed item details

Guardian Review

Purchase the reviewed item

Amazon - paper back

Amazon - Kindle edition

ISBN: 1408154927



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