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.
Czech-born Zátopek discovered distance running almost by accident in 1941, when, at the age of eighteen, he was coerced into representing the shoe factory at which he was working in a local race. Competing against runners from all over German-occupied Bohemia and Moravia, and despite never having trained before, he