It is a novel about three Team GB track cyclists trying to qualify for the London Olympics, mashed up with themes about sportsmanship, love and family.
But what makes “Gold” stand out as a piece of sports fiction is its technical details.
For most sports writers, be it fiction or non-fiction, it is almost necessary to be equipped with sufficient knowledge of the sport and also the scoring system, which in turn needs extensive research.
Cleave demonstrated his hard work in “Gold” by going through an intensive training program to learn the ropes and his writing oozed of proficiency in the subject.
Prior to the London Olympics, I admit knowing almost close to nothing about the track cycling, needless to say sat through any of its events.
“Gold” educated me more about the sport more than I expected, particularly in the individual sprint event.
Armed with new knowledge, I brought in a fresh pair of eyes to watch the Olympics’ Velodrome competitions and they did turn out to be nail-biting experiences.
Moreover, I also felt a deeper sense of appreciation for cyclists like Chris Hoy and Laura Trott who brought in so much physical and mental strength as they raced around the tracks. Despite the technicalities involved, the plot is a breeze to get through, with a distinct core plot progressing linearly and another side track recounting the athletes’ lives since the start of their careers.
A highlight for me would be the tension and conflicting interests between characters that is surprisingly convincing, particularly after reading about the real life personal saga of Britain’s cycling golden girl Victoria Pendleton. (Some of the interviews Pendleton gave include Esquire magazine and the Daily Mail where she talked about her personal life.)
Under the glitz and glamorous selves on the podiums, the athletes, both in fiction and real life, reveal their human side when juggling their internal demons, professional careers and relationships.For Pendleton, it was her affair with her fiancé cum former Team GB sports scientist Scott Gardner during the run up to the Beijing Olympics that led her to question her professionalism.
“I honestly left the Beijing Olympics feeling like I’d committed a crime — like I’d killed somebody,” she said to Esquire magazine.
Her reaction came about because relationships between coaches and riders have traditionally not been allowed on the team.
In “Gold,” professionalism was also at risk when relationship woes between riders started encroaching into the athletes work and public lives.
Furthermore, the manner in which Pendleton spoke candidly about her attitude towards her sport sounds very similar to what the fictional characters in “Gold” would have said.
“Success in cycling, Pendleton adds, is about the ability to tolerate physical pain: ‘It’s how much you’re willing to hurt yourself. How much pain you can deal with before you take your foot off and say: “I can’t go on.”
She repeats the words in a fake whiny voice: ‘I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. It sounds so weak! I’d rather drop dead off my bike.’”
Such parallels between fictional and real life jazzed the novel up to make it more believable and also a good book to indulge yourself in the last bits Olympic action…. until four years later!
Ending the post off with a fun video of Team GB athletes lip synching to Queen’s song “Don’t Stop Me Now.” Enjoy!