Olympic Follies, by Graeme Kent

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A few numbers: the 1908 London Games attracted 2,035 competitors, cost a little over £80,000, ran for six months and enjoyed a new stadium at White City with a 150,000 capacity. It is generally regarded as the first "modern Olympics", so it's a shame that this book's title stresses the negative aspects in a way the author does not.

Certainly there were rows and accusations of cheating, mainly involving the British and American teams, in events from athletics to tug of war, and a "scandal" at the opening ceremony, when the US team's flag-bearer refused to dip the Stars and Stripes, as protocol demanded, in front of the Royal Box. Yet there was also much to admire, as this authoritative, anecdote-packed account acknowledges. And however successful London 2012 turns out to be, one achievement definitely won't be surpassed: in 1908 Great Britain topped the medals table, with 56 golds, 51 silvers and 39 bronzes.

Published by JR Books in hardback, £14.99

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