GAY OLYMPIAN by Tom Waddell

GAY OLYMPIAN

The Life and Death of Dr. Tom Waddell
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An unrelentingly shallow biography of the decathlete and physician who founded the Gay Games, incorporating extensive chunks of Waddell's diary from the last five years of his life. The prolific Schaap (Steinbrenner!, 1982, etc.) interviewed Waddell at length before his death from AIDS in 1987. The result, after an unexplained nine-year delay, is in essence an uncritical third-person autobiography. Waddell was born Tom Flubacher in New Jersey in 1937. His unhappy family disintegrated when he was young, and by his mid-teens he had moved in with a supportive couple whose name he took. A lousy student, Waddell squeaked his way through college on an athletic scholarship and went on to medical school while competing in track and field events. In 1966 he was drafted; to avoid Vietnam, Waddell registered as a conscientious objector, even demonstrating against the war. In the 1968 Olympics he finished sixth in the decathlon. His athletic career waned, but he pursued adventurous medical postings (i.e., accompanying Saudi royalty as a medical adviser on gambling junkets). Always aware of his homosexual leaning, Waddell came fully to terms with his sexuality in the 1970s, and People featured him and a lover in its ``Couples'' section in 1977. The Gay Games, Waddell's brainchild, were inaugurated in 1982, essentially to show that gay men and lesbians are normal because they can compete in sports as successfully as straight people; Schaap doesn't address criticisms of this fragile logic. Waddell fathered a child with a lesbian friend in 1983; his last years were occupied with his daughter, his declining health, and a protracted legal battle against the US Olympic Committee, which refused to let Waddell call his games the Gay Olympics. A complex character--compassionate, noble, but deeply troubled--sometimes peeks out, but Schaap's gee- whiz prose is as unsubtle as Waddell's diary entries addressed to his infant daughter. (Photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-394-57223-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996