Guardian senior sportswriter Bull recounts the history of modern bobsledding and the four men who led the American team to victory at the 1932 Winter Olympics.
The late-19th-century development of the automobile primed popular taste for speed in both the United States and Europe. At this time, bobsledding became a craze on both sides of the Atlantic. By the early 20th century, it had gone from an “enjoyable pastime” to an activity that caused countless injuries and many deaths. Bobsledding also became a sport that helped revitalize the moribund tourist economy of St. Moritz, a Swiss Alpine resort that opened the first bobsled track in 1902. As sleds became faster and more dangerous, the sport became increasingly popular among spectators and sportsmen looking for the ultimate winter thrill. Against this backdrop, Bull tells the story of four individuals—Billy Fiske, the speed-loving son of an American banker; Jay O’Brien, a New York bon vivant; Eddie Eagan, a champion boxer; and Tippy Gray, a silent film star—who became some of the greatest heroes of early competitive bobsledding. He interweaves the story of their exploits with the behind-the-scene intrigues and boardroom politicking that characterized the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics, the first to ever be held on American soil. Part of an international group of 52 bobsledders dubbed the “suicide club,” the team went on to not only beat local Lake Placid favorites, but also break speed records and win the gold medal. The care Bull demonstrates in developing each of the figures in this engrossing narrative is almost novelistic, but this attention to detail also causes the narrative to digress too much toward the end, where Bull elaborates on the short post-victory life of daredevil team captain Fiske, who went on to become a volunteer fighter pilot for the British and die fighting the Germans in 1940.
A flawed but well-written and entertaining sports story.