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Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics


Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics

Fifteen-year-old Susan Carol Anderson started swimming competitively to win a scholarship to college. Her event is the 200-meter butterfly, a stroke she excels at by virtue of her height. Having gained an inch and 15 pounds of muscle over the past six months, she is swimming better than ever, but is still surprised to find herself qualifying --- first for the World Championships and then for the Olympic trials (every athlete’s dream). The attention from promoters and agents intensifies the closer she gets to the Olympics. Her athletic prowess, matched with her charm and good looks, makes her a hot property.

"In addition to leaving the solution to the mystery until the very last pages of the book --- readers may suspect who plans to throw the races, but will never guess how --- Feinstein captures the excitement of the Olympics..."

But no one seems interested in what Susan Carol wants any more, whether it’s time off to spend with her friends, or sticking with her high school swimming coach who’s developed her talent. No longer able to trust the people who are supposed to be looking after her best interests --- including her own father --- Susan Carol wonders how far they will go to see her win Olympic Gold.

RUSH FOR THE GOLD is the latest title in John Feinstein’s bestselling Last Shot series, focusing on the adventures of two teen reporters who win a contest to cover the athletic world’s most exclusive events. Together with her partner-in-reporting, Stevie Thomas, Susan Carol has uncovered conspiracy and corruption at the highest levels, but never thought she’d be embroiled in an intrigue of her own. “I thought I knew what athletes’ lives were like from all of our reporting,” she says to Stevie. “But it’s so overwhelming being on the other side of the story.”

While Susan Carol prepares for the Olympic games, Stevie works behind the scenes, reporting on other athletes and attempting to uncover what looks like an increasingly shady set of deals between promoters and agents as they maneuver for control of their top picks. Caught up in the media cyclone that surrounds the Olympic hopefuls, Susan Carol is reminded of something her hero, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, once said: “When you’re growing up you train to be an athlete. Then you train to be a coach. But you never train to be a celebrity.”

Veteran sports reporter John Feinstein brings his expertise and love of the game to RUSH FOR THE GOLD. A swimmer in college, he offers an insider’s knowledge to the pressures and pain of athletics, as well as what it’s like to cover these events from behind the scenes. Perhaps most surprising --- along with the well-documented competitiveness of the games, where the difference between winning and losing can be measured in hundredths of a second --- is the way interpersonal relationships work both to the benefit and disadvantage of athletes and reporters.

The most interesting aspect of the book is the insight Feinstein allows his characters to have into their own lives. Susan Carol and Stevie are clearly mature for their age and have demonstrated time and again their resourcefulness and responsibility, but they are repeatedly told that they are too young, too inexperienced, or too incompetent to rely upon their own judgment. Though the world of competitive athletics Feinstein explores is nuanced and complex, characters are quickly divided into two camps: those who respect the youngsters and those who are looking to either dismiss or manipulate them. The hardest is Susan Carol’s own father, who is swayed by the high dollar amounts agents are placing on his daughter.

“They see you as a commodity,” one of Susan Carol’s mentors warns her,  “and one that needs to be exploited quickly because the Olympics window opens and closes quickly. They have absolutely no interest in you as a person or in your future long-term. Your dad should understand that.”

But Susan Carol’s father seems blind to her feelings, even when she tells him she’s uncomfortable with coverage that “has people talking as much about how she looks in her bathing suit as about how fast she swims in it.” In attempting to express her frustration about the focus on looks over athletic prowess, she points out that male athletes do not have to endure the same scrutiny over their looks as female ones. Talented female athletes who are not as conventionally attractive --- like her friend, teammate and strongest competitor Elizabeth Wentworth --- are often overlooked, even when they give superior performances. Susan Carol tells Stevie, “… if I win a gold medal here, I’ll make at least five million in the next year --- maybe a lot more. Elizabeth might win two gold medals and not make a penny. How is that fair?”

Stevie responds, “You’re right. But what about this? … Is it fair that a gorgeous fifteen-year-old who swims fast CAN make millions? Think about your mom the teacher and your dad the minister. They won’t make that kind of money ever. And that doesn’t seem fair either…. I’m just saying --- we’ve both seen enough of the sports world to know that money is everywhere, but fairness is harder to come by.”

It’s this kind of perspective and respect for fair play that makes RUSH FOR THE GOLD shine. In addition to leaving the solution to the mystery until the very last pages of the book --- readers may suspect who plans to throw the races, but will never guess how --- Feinstein captures the excitement of the Olympics, which, he reports, will draw 12,000 competitors from around the world this year. His descriptions of the ceremonies and what it must feel like just to get a chance to attend are as thrilling as the mystery itself. RUSH FOR THE GOLD, which can easily be read as a stand-alone title, invites readers to join in the vision that the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, had in 1896 of people coming together out of a love of excellence and a sense of good will. As one characters says to another at the end of the book, “You’re an Olympian and a medalist. There’s no way to lose.”

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on July 25, 2012

Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics
by John Feinstein

  • Publication Date: May 22, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult 10+
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0375869638
  • ISBN-13: 9780375869631