The Blagger's Guide To: Fictional sporting heroes
Drama, romance adventure ... and jockstraps
Sunday 05 August 2012
Gemma Gibbons, Peter Wilson – as of the last week, we've got a brand new set of heroes. But as their names enter the history books, what of the sporting pin-ups we love already? One of the joys of the Olympics for non-sports fans has been the number of touching and inspirational personal stories to have emerged. Well, needless to say, writers have been on to this for some time, and readers of sporting fiction will be quite used to the tears, the trauma, and the nail-biting. For those who, until last week, thought sport had no place in their lives, let alone their bookcases, let the Blagger be your guide.
Quenton Cassidy is the lovable hero of John L Parker's 1978 classic, Once a Runner, based on the author's experiences of competitive running. Cassidy is an American student who dreams of running a four-minute mile; he's only one second off when the Vietnam War breaks out. After taking part in a student protest, he is suspended from the team. Things can only get better after he loses his scholarship and his girlfriend, and the arc of the story then follows a familiar sports fiction trajectory, as he fights back to run the race of his life. An inspirational tale of overcoming the odds, made doubly so by the fact that Parker originally had to publish this himself.
Hailed by The Times as "probably the best novel ever written about sport", The Damned Utd became a word-of-mouth hit in the summer of 2006. Written by David Peace, it tells a fictionalised account of the 44 days that Brian Clough spent as manager of Leeds United in 1974. This may not seem like an obviously thrilling episode, but through imagined diary extracts, Clough's character emerges as a big-hearted but flawed Shakespearean hero, drunk and magnificent. The book is about fathers and sons, the 1970s, and football before it was swallowed by bling, but the stand-out hero is Clough.
Freya North's fourth novel, Cat, tells the story of a 29-year-old female journalist tasked with covering the Tour de France. Having split up from her long-term boyfriend, Cat is thrust into a tumult of shaven-legged men in bulging lycra. Admittedly this is chick lit on two wheels but, like a lot of North's writing, it's funny and engaging and has an endearing ingénue heroine at its heart.
Olympic fencing is a direct descendant of the swash-buckling duels of the 17th century, whose greatest proponent was D'Artagnan from The Three Musketeers. Actually written in 1844, Alexander Dumas' novel was based on the diaries of the real-life Monsieur d'Artagnan, which he borrowed from a Marseilles library – though Dumas was a keen fencer himself. The book's title refers to his three friends, Athos, Porthos and Aramis – "One for all, and all for one!" – who are arguably now more famous than D'Artagnan.
Rupert Campbell-Black may be remembered as the villain of Jilly Cooper's "Rutshire" novels, but true fans will point out that the sexy show-jumper wins a gold medal for Team GB at the end of Riders. Cooper has admitted she based her caddish anti-hero on Andrew Parker Bowles, first husband of the Duchess of Cornwall. One wonders if Camilla was reminded of her old life, in and out of horse-boxes, while watching Zara Phillips compete last week ….
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre