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Cycling for glory
Close races, cut-throat competition, victory laps, bouts of anxiety and heart-breaking defeat. The Olympics have stories filled with these emotions. It is often said that fiction always usually comes up short to true tales of sporting marvel. This Olympic season, Chris Cleave attempts to emulate sporting truth in his third novel, Gold.
Gold follows the life of two friends and rivals as they race their way for a spot in the Olympics cycling competitions, chasing both their dreams and inner demons. There's Zoe, the girl whose face adorns billboards, who has won gold at the Athens and Beijing Olympics and who is single-minded in her pursuit of another at London. Then there's Kate, the girl with the silver streak who mostly finishes second on the podium. She is the nice one with the responsibilities and a daughter, Sophie, who has leukaemia. In tending to her, she misses out on Athens and Beijing. London is her big chance but the odds seem stacked against her. On days that she takes her daughter to training, "they would leave for the velodrome with her kitbag bulging. "
"Zoe, on the other hand, would leave her apartment with just her cycling kit in a bag and one slim Yale key in the back pocket of her jeans. To get to the velodrome, Kate and Jack would have to strap Sophie into her car seat, run through the safety checklist, then drive defensively past a dozen billboards with Zoe's face on them... By the time the Argalls had run the gauntlet and made it to the velodrome, Zoe would have been warming up for an hour already. How could Kate compete with that?" Gold is about how she does.
It's also about Kate's husband Jack, another Olympic Gold medallist and Tom, the coach with the bad knees who once missed a bronze at the Olympics by a tenth of a second. Love triangles, a grave illness, searing competition and some twists all sets a pace but Gold's also a tad sentimental. Kate's a bit too saintly, Jack's moments of resentment are few and Zoe's given a back story that explains her obsessive streak and her tendency to mess with other people's minds. But Gold also gives a peep into the velodrome world of racers governed by fickle Games' rules and their battles and insecurities as they go about competing with each other and themselves, often losing out on their personal lives in their race for personal bests. It's also about a poignant question that hangs over every sportsperson: what's in store for me after I retire?
The hope of a gold and the fear of the afterlife is what makes Gold a compelling read.
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