Vybarr Cregan-Reid

The Octopus & the Windmill

Today We Die a Little: The Rise and Fall of Emil Zátopek, Olympic Legend

By Richard Askwith

Yellow Jersey Press 457pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

For the Glory: The Life of Eric Liddell

By Duncan Hamilton

Doubleday 372pp £20 order from our bookshop

According to official figures, more of us are running today than ever before. As we become increasingly impoverished of leisure time, modes of exercise that require no membership, no social organisation and little preparation seem an attractive prospect; and no exercise fits these categories as easily as running does. With more runners come more books for them. The two extraordinary runners who are the subjects of these biographies, Emil Zátopek and Eric Liddell, bore some striking resemblances. Both are remembered for their highly eccentric running styles. Zátopek ran lopsided, as though wrestling a drunken octopus, chatting away with his understandably less loquacious fellow competitors. Liddell ran with his head thrust back, a high knee-lift and arms flailing like a windmill. Both men became Olympic champions at distances for which they did not train. But despite the similarities, these are two markedly different books. And although Zátopek and Liddell lived only a few decades apart, their lives were startlingly different too.

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