Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Review: The Second Mark

Joy Goodwin’s The Second Mark: Courage, Corruption, and the Battle for Olympic Gold is the second book I’ve read about the 2002 Olympic figure skating judging scandal. Thanks to my many readers who recommended it.

You might recall that my big criticism of Jon Jackson’s book, On Edge: Backroom Dealing, Cocktail Scheming, Triple Axels, and How Top Skaters Get Screwed, was that he didn’t bring in the scandal until page 180. The rest was a memoir.

Goodwin begins with the warm-up for the 2002 Olympic pairs skating event, but she, too doesn’t bring in the judging scandal until later in the book – page 238. Unlike Jackson’s book, I really didn’t mind that she waited so long to bring in the bombshell.

What’s the difference? Goodwin, unlike Jackson, brings the main players on stage from page one. Better yet, by the time she brings in the scandal, I cared about the skaters. They’re not just pawns for the judges’ medal scheme, they’re people who’ve survived despite uncaring systems, abusive partners, illness, loneliness, and injuries. Each time, these Olympians pick themselves up, shake it off, and try again. One skater’s parent attributes his daughter’s skating success to her ability to eat bitterness. These folks are tough.

Goodwin writes like she’s showing us the skaters’ world on film instead of in print. Readers can see what China looks like after the Cultural Revolution. They can witness the skating system in Russia and the abuse it fostered. Goodwin describes Jamie Salé and David Pelletier so accurately that it feels like I should invite them over for a couple of beers. I like these people and I feel grateful to Goodwin for introducing them to me.

By the time the judges’ numbers game happened in Chapter Five, I wasn’t sure which skating pair or which coach I was rooting for the most. I can tell you that I had pretty much no sympathy for the judges. Goodwin covers a lot of pages with the skaters’ countries, coaches, parents, and training, but she just gives a quick sketch of what it’s like to be a judge. Her notes at the end of the book list all of her interviews, but she never got to the figure skating officials at the heart of the scandal: Marie-Reine Le Gougne, Ottavio Cinquanta, and Didier Gailhaguet. The scandal chapters just don’t have the fullness that the rest of the book has. It’s O.K., though. I’m not really interested in caring about the political pressures the judges faced. Unless one of them had been brained with a sharp blade or shivered in bloody skates, I’ve no sympathy for them.

The bottom line: Goodwin did her homework. She interviewed everyone who would talk to her and watched countless videos about skating and life in China, Russia, and Canada. It sounds like the book would be dry, but it isn’t. Instead, the book unfolds like a good movie: it has scenery, plot, and characters I care about. This book is very much worth your time.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for reviewing this book. I loved this book! I agree is reads like a great movie. I wish a producer would see it's movie potential. I would love to see the movie version, only if it is done with respect for the skaters involved and the skating communitee. It would be aweful if the movie made a mockery of skating and what the skaters experienced. Unfortunatly, most skating movies are very inaccurate and make skating seem like a big joke.
Anyway, Thank you again for reviewing the book. I'm glad you enjoyed it and I hope you will want to read it again (I know I do:D) Season

Ice Mom said...

Thanks, Season, for recommending it to me - it was a great read. I should have said something about Goodwin's skill at the play-by-play. It's tough to do well, but she does it.

Hope your daughter did well at Regionals!

Ice Mom

Anonymous said...

Thank you for responding to my comment. Unfortunatly, my daughter did not go to regionals this year. We recently found out she has torn a small muscle in her left hip joint. She has been skating but is very limited in what she is able to work on without pain. We are scheduled to see a surgeon to get his recommendation on how to proceed with repairing her injury. I'll keep you posted (no pun intended)on how she is doing. Hope your daughter is doing well. Did she go to regionals this year? If she did I hope she skated well. Season

Ice Mom said...

Oh, Season. I'm sorry to hear that your daughter is in pain. I wish her a full recovery.

Nope. Ice Girl didn't go to Regionals this year, either. She's not quite at that level yet. Next year's Regionals for us is in Green Bay. Not sure about that one, either. Hope it's not a Packers weekend. That will mean $300 hotel rooms. Must. Make. New. Friend. In. Green. Bay. :)

Ice Charades said...

Thanks for the book review - I hope to read it soon. I also finished On Edge and agree with what you said ... thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Re: $300 hotel rooms...
If you can remember to cancel your reservation if you need to, most hotels have a 24 hour notice cancellation policy. If you book early (i.e. now) before it's known whether or not it will be a Packers weekend (ok, I'm not a footbal person, so this might already be known? or not?), you might save yourself some money. Just make sure you read the cancellation policy before booking. It will usually say on one of the pages before you submit to make your reservation how much notice they need for a cancellation. Your confirmation email will also have it in there to remind you. Your credit card won't be charged until you check out of the hotel after your stay (or if your first night passes and you haven't shown up).

gaskets said...

I really love this book Thank for the review. Watched the movie version?

Ice Mom said...

Hi, Gaskets.

Um. There isn't a movie.

Ice Mom