Summer Reading Series 3: (Olympic) Sports & Recreation

Like hundreds of millions around the world, we watched the opening ceremonies of the London Olympic Games not only to see what Danny Boyle could do with $43-million and a top-hatted Kenneth Branagh, but also because the grand procession of athletes is the final hurdle in our quadrennial wait between each staging of the greatest spectacle of sport on Earth. Now, at last, the games can begin again.

Fitting with the theme of day, for the third installment of our Summer Reading Series we present winners from the category Sports & Recreation, which are available at the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).

1. “The Team that Disappearedby Brett Popplewell, Sportsnet (2011 Gold winner in Sports & Recreation)
In this terrific investigative article that solidified the long-form chops of the new Sportsnet magazine, Brett Popplewell tells the true story of the greatest tragedy in the history of the sport of hockey–the crash of flight RA-42434 in northern Russia, which wiped out nearly the entire squad of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, one of the country’s premier professional clubs.

The pain of the loved ones left to grieve–including the family of the team’s Canadian coach–as well as the terror of the survivors, the chaos of the scene, the circus of the investigation, and the confusion of the one man who decided not to board the flight that day–all are recounted honestly in Popplewell’s masterful reconstruction of an event that affected countless lives all over the world.

“While the bells rang out above the dead, the phones began to ring. It was morning in North America. Late afternoon in Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Czech Republic, as news of the crash reached the families and friends of the men being pulled from the wreckage.” [Read more]

2. “Cycle of Lifeby Rich Poplak, explore (2009 Gold Winner in Sports & Recreation)
An ode to a father’s enduring inspiration, Rich Poplak tells the story of how his dad’s passion for the pedal became his own, and how the pain of pushing his body to new frontiers of athleticism ultimately became instructive of the bonds between father and son.

“I once believed that the time I spent in the saddle amounted to nothing more than wasted hours acquiescing to a foolish obsession. This I no longer believe. As I matured as a rider—as piss and vinegar dried up, giving way to the canny wisdom of a veteran—I came to understand cycling as a means of managing will. The paradox of endurance sport is that it becomes about everything besides the body.” [Read more]

3. “High Standardsby Alex Hutchison, Canadian Running (2008 Silver Winner in Sports & Recreation)
Four years ago, just before the start of the Beijing Olympic Games, 7-time NMA nominee Alex Hutchison set out to investigate why the Canadian Olympic Committee had imposed extraordinarily tough qualification standards for the marathon–alone among all athletic events–that resulted in fewer Canadian runners winning the right to compete for their country.

As the Olympics come around again this piece is especially worth revisiting, not in the least because this year, again, no Canadian women qualified for the London Games’ marathon (3 men qualified, marking the first time Canada has had Olympic marathon competitors since 2000; the men’s marathon is August 12).

“Setting appropriate Olympic standards demands that we think carefully about the role of amateur sport in society. Do we want role models, or just medals? Ultimately, it’s a clash between two visions of what the Olympics represent.” [Read more]

Read these articles and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive

Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel | Essays

Kenneth Branagh photo credit: Phil Noble/Reuters; courtesy The Guardian.

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