Athletics / Books for Christmas: Reading between the lines: Mike Rowbottom on the latest selections on offer in the world of track and field

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THE advent of Christmas, even in an Olympic year, has not brought the publishers of athletics books hurtling out of their blocks. The clearest candidate for the festive market is Queen of The Track, The Liz McColgan Story, by Adrianne Blue (H F and G Witherby, pounds 12.99), which charts the career of one of Britain's most adaptable and successful athletes from her early days on a tough council estate in Dundee to her present position as a high-profile, high- earning world champion and mother.

The book ends with a description of McColgan's appearance earlier this year in This Is Your Life. In tone, it closely resembles that television programme, presenting a breezy narrative which is regularly broken into by sound bites of other voices.

Awkwardly for Blue, however, the most important voices, those of McColgan and her husband Peter, are absent, other than in the form of quotes gathered diligently from media coverage.

Fair do's. Given that the McColgans did not want to take part - they are already discussing an authorised biography elsewhere - the author had no option. But this is a book which strives to be on the inside without really succeeding as it draws most strongly from the recollections of those who witnessed McColgan's early years. At times the dramatisation of events and races, openly acknowledged by Blue in a foreword, is, perhaps inevitably, stretched too far.

For all that this is a peek through the window into McColgan's life, though, the view is often fascinating. The chapter on McColgan's dispute with her former coach, John Anderson, is particularly interesting. One is closer here to the heart of things, and the athlete comes out with less than shining colours.

There are no such problems with access to the main protagonist in David Miller's book about Sebastian Coe, Born To Run (Pavilion, pounds 14.99). The chunks of first-hand statements from Coe and other principals such as his father and coach, Peter, are so generous that the book seems to have been a work of compilation as much as writing.

There is intelligent reflection upon all the highs and lows in the career of one of Britain's truly great athletes, from his epiphany in the Moscow Olympics 1,500 metres to the desperation of his failure to negotiate the 1988 British Olympic trials in Birmingham, which extracted from Coe the memorably choice statement: 'This is a hell of a place to end an Olympic career. . . it's a bit like Noel Coward dying in Slough.'

Vyv Simson and Andrew Jennings's brave and controversial book The Lords Of The Rings (Simon and Schuster), which depicts the Olympics themselves as being in danger of dying in a slough of corruption, has now been released in paperback at the highly affordable price of pounds 4.99.

It is partial and highly spiced, but its vigorous assault on the men who run the Games, with allegations of cheating, misuse of funds and unofficial condoning of drug abuse, has the compelling quality of a great gossip. An updated chapter added for the paperback edition takes stock of the situation following the Barcelona Games, and forecasts that the flame which flickered there may be dimmed come the next Games in Atlanta and extinguished by the end of the century.

Another hardback book currently available in paperback with an update is Kriss Akabusi On Track, by Ted Harrison (Lion, pounds 4.99). The additional material to this account of the career and Christian faith of the man who took British 400 metres hurdling on from the days of David Hemery and Alan Pascoe details his part in the 400m relay victory at the last world championships, where his final leg against the individual world champion, Antonio Pettigrew, of the United States, raised his profile beyond the level of athletics. It would have been nice to have seen a concluding chapter on his last big competitive appearance in the Olympics, however.

Barcelona 92 (Mosaik, pounds 12.95), of coffee table proportions, is aimed at those wishing to recall the spectacle of the 1992 Olympics. It does up to a point. There are some decent pictures from the German photographers from whom the images are drawn, most notably from the rowing and the opening and closing ceremonies. But the book is not sure whether it is going for large stunning images or a more detailed pictorial account of what went on, where some of the images are irritatingly small. A bit of a waste, really.