The “Road to London” is unfolding all around us.
Cal State Long Beach hosted volleyball qualifiers, our own NHHS saw the water polo hopefuls compete, marketing campaigns from the Olympic sponsors are heating up, and FloJo’s daughter is even singing on “America’s Got Talent.”
Just in time to cash in on Olympic mania, Chris Cleave, author of “Little Bee” and “Incendiary,” is releasing his new novel, “Gold,” which revolves around Kate and Zoe, two women competing for gold in the London Olympics.
Having met at 19 when trying out for the British national training program in track cycling before the 2000 Olympics, the two have become fast friends, and intense rivals, over the course of the last 13 years.
Although each shares the same athletic goal, they could not be more different personally. At the outset of the story, Zoe is capturing a medal in Athens in 2004, while Kate is at home caring for her new infant daughter.
As 2012 approaches, while Kate is the more gifted athlete, Zoe is more driven and has nothing in her personal life to distract her from her goal. Kate, on the other hand, has a daughter battling leukemia and a husband who is also a world-class athlete.
At 32, both women know that this will be their last chance at Olympic gold, and in a twist, the rules have changed, allowing only one of them a spot on the Olympic team, which puts an obvious damper on their relationship.
As they head toward their penultimate race, both women have to ask themselves just how much they are willing to sacrifice, not only to win, but for those they love.
Cleave, a native Londoner, expects the real-life Olympics to shine a light on every facet of our humanity. He has said that those who are inclined towards negativity will find fault with traffic jams and price increases, while the glass-half-full crowd will revel in the accomplishments of the competitors and the glory of the event.
When comparing the actual games to his novel, he said, “Like any sufficiently big and complex story, the Olympic ideal – or a novel about the Olympic ideal – is a Rorschach ink blot in which people see aspects of themselves.
“I’m compelled to tell the hidden stories of people who live at the extremes of life, and there are few lives more extreme than those of professional athletes. I chose sprint cycling in particular … because for so many of us the bicycle gave us our first taste of independence when we were little, which means that cycling stands for something free and exciting in a deep part of our psyche.”
People magazine calls the book “a heartstring-tugger with an adrenaline-fueled plot.”
Personally, I see “Gold” as summer reading at its best. It is timely and relevant to what is happening in the real world as we speak. It is relatable – although most of us aren’t heading to the velodrome any time soon, we can all see aspects of our own lives in the struggles and triumphs of Kate and Zoe.
And, I don’t know about you, but Cleave’s tale is most likely the closest I will get to knowing what it is like to be an Olympic athlete. I may never make it to the medal stand, but as a lover of the games, I’ll take the trip to London any way I can get it.