IoS Books of the Year 2012: Sport

Britain's athletes strike gold all over again

It is no surprise that an Olympic year has sparked a clutch of subsequent autobiographies. Pride of place goes to Seb Coe, the man who did so much to make London 2012 possible, but Running My Life (Hodder, £20) is far from the self-congratulatory account one might expect. Charting his rise from a Sheffield secondary modern to double Olympic champion, multiple record-holder, politician and inspirational leader behind the successful Games, he reveals a personality far more amusing and unpretentious than his smooth public image would suggest.

Two gold medal-winning cyclists also tell their story: Bradley Wiggins recounts in somewhat breathless fashion his year of years (he also became the first Briton to win the Tour de France) in My Time (Yellow Jersey, £18.99); and Victoria Pendleton's Between the Lines (HarperSport, £20) reveals that a troubled, self-harming soul who has become disenchanted with cycling lies behind her outwardly glamorous persona.

But the cycling book of the year is undoubtedly The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle (Bantam, £18.99), in which Hamilton lifts the lid on the sport's drug culture. The American rider comes clean about his own guilt, but his most eye-popping revelations concern his former teammate Lance Armstrong, the seven-times Tour de France winner. Hamilton describes in forensic detail how the doping system operated and how riders cheated it, and claims that Armstrong did test positive but survived because, such was his influence, the sport's authorities hushed it up. How times change – thanks in no small part to Hamilton.

Arthur Newton and Peter Gavuzzi faced considerably more mileage than the Tour – and on foot – when they lined up in 1928 for a 3,500-mile road race from Los Angeles to New York. Mark Whitaker's Running For Their Lives (Yellow Jersey, £17.99) explores the unlikely friendship forged between two rootless Englishmen: the resolutely middle-class Newton and the working-class ship's steward Gavuzzi. Newton went on to set many world distance records, beating his own 100-mile mark at the age of 51, but riches and enduring fame eluded both. Whitaker has done an excellent job in bringing them to life.

A runner not short of riches and fame is the racehorse Frankel, who in his 14 unbeaten outings earned £2,998,302 while racing for a total of 21min 59.8sec, and is set to earn £10m a year following his retirement to stud. The best ever? That is impossible to quantify, but none of the contributors to Frankel: The Wonder Horse (Racing Post, £20), a sumptuously illustrated complete record of his career, is prepared to argue against it.

Simon Jordan would be the first to admit that he was not the world's most successful football chairman, having blown many millions on buying and funding Crystal Palace for 10 years, only to see the club slide into administration early in 2010. Brash, flash and full of bottle-blond ambition, he strode into league football at 32, convinced he had all the answers. But by the end of his memoir Be Careful What You Wish For (Yellow Jersey, £18.99), written with verve and humour, he comes across as a surprisingly sympathetic character. The final chapters, about his own and the club's financial meltdown, read like a fast-paced thriller.

There has been no shortage of Jewish football chairmen, administrators and fans over the years, but where are the players? In Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here? (Quercus, £20), a thought-provoking, absorbing exploration of what Anthony Clavane terms "English football's forgotten tribe", he points to historic patterns of Jewish thinking, hinted at in the title, and social discrimination, as reasons for the relative paucity. Yet he argues that "being a Good Sportsman and a Good Jew are not incompatible aspirations, and Englishness and Jewishness are not mutually contradictory". Amen to that.

Miles Jupp is a man of many parts – stand-up comedian, actor, writer, cricket fan, drinker – but his decision to try and cover England's 2006 Test series in India as a journalist proved an ambition too far. He wangled accreditation as a correspondent for the Western Mail and BBC Scotland, but things went wrong from the start. Yet while he is not a seasoned journalist, Jupp is a natural writer, and Fibber in the Heat (Ebury, £11.99), a self-deprecatory account of his innocence abroad in the press box, is very funny.

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Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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