A Season in the Life of Four Women in the Toughest Sport of All
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 An intriguing and alarming, if curiously unanalytical, peek at the lives of four women triathletes, by a former amateur triathlon competitor. Centering on the Hawaiian Ironman, conceived in 1978 as the first--and still the most punishing--triathlon contest, Cook tracks his subjects through a year of grueling preparation for the 1989 meet--a daunting combination of a two-and-a-half-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bike race, and a marathon. Though a varied group in terms of training technique, mental attitude, business savvy, and financial backing, the four--Paula Newby-Fraser, Kirsten Hanssen, Julie Wilson, and Jan Ripple (all legitimate contenders for the women's crown in this uniquely mixed-sex sport)--emerge as far more similar than Cook admits. All were promising teenage athletes who failed to fulfill early potential. Three came from strict religious backgrounds with an emphasis on self-denying perfectionism. Interestingly, the exception (and eventual winner), Newby-Fraser, with her casual way of life in the triathlon-mecca of San Diego, comes off as the most engaging. In contrast, evangelical Hanssen- -plagued by injury, dangerously thin, and compulsive enough to finish third in the 1988 Ironman with a cast on her wrist--poses an appalling picture of athleticism gone haywire. Are these ``the fittest women alive'' or ``masochistic fools''? Cook, who raises the question, declines to say. More troubling is his refusal to take a hard look at the legitimacy of a sport in which courses are changed at the last minute to please sponsors; flagrant cheating goes unpenalized; drug-testing is either haphazard or nonexistent; and prize money (as usual, unequally distributed by sex) may be cut back by promoters at will. While such disorganization may well be typical of any nascent sport, Cook's failure to contrast his dedicated subjects with their untidy arena deprives them--and his book--of a fair measure of their achievement. (Sixteen pages of photographs--some seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1992
ISBN: 0-312-08184-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1992