20150805

Usain Bolt, Kevin Keegan, Ingemar Johansson and English Leg Spin come under the spotlight in a quartet of new titles

NEW BOOKS

A selection of new sports books

The Bolt Supremacy: Inside Jamaica's Sprint Factory, by Richard Moore (Yellow Jersey) £18.99


Available from Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith and other retailers

In nine of the last 11 years, the fastest time of the year for the men's 100m has been set by a Jamaican; seven times in the same period, the fastest time for the women's 100m has also been set by a Jamaican.  The latest phenomenon, Usain Bolt, is not only the fastest of them all but possibly the most recognisable sportsman or woman on the planet.

Sprinters define Jamaica. So what is the secret of this one island's incredible success?  Genetics? Diet? The island's love of athletics that sees crowds of 35,000 turn up for high school championships? Or something more sinister?

Richard Moore, who learned a good deal about success achieved by unfair means in previous books about cyclist Robert Millar and the banned Olympic 100m champion Ben Johnson, does not shy away from awkward questions in his quest to discover what lies behind Jamaica's extraordinary ability to produce the fastest human beings on the planet.

He is right to do so.  Since the 2008 Olympics, more than 20 Jamaican runners have tested positive for banned substances, including Bolt's training partner, Johan Blake, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price, the double Olympic 100m champion.  Bolt, it should be stressed, has been tested more than 100 times and always been clean.

Moore does not reveal any vast scandal, although inevitably there are not many willing to talk about such a possibility. Moreover, he does find is a history of chaotic drug testing procedures, which does not help in quelling suspicions.

However, this highly readable book should not be disparaged for the lack of career-ending evidence of the kind that some recent cycling books have been able to present.  Success on the track is not all about cheating and Moore outlines many quite plausible and yet entirely innocent possibilities behind the Jamaican phenomenon.

Touching Distance: Kevin Keegan, The Entertainers and Newcastle's Impossible Dream, by Martin Hardy (de Coubertin) £18.99.


Available from Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith and other retailers

In February, 1992, facing relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time in their history, Newcastle United were also on the point of financial collapse.  Were they to go down, the club would probably go out of business.  Sir John Hall, whose Magpie Group were gradually winning a long battle to take control of the club, took an enormous gamble by appointing Kevin Keegan as manager.

Keegan, twice European Footballer of the Year, had played for the club between 1982 and 1984, during which time he had become a talismanic figure for Newcastle fans, helping them win promotion in his second season.  Yet he had been out of football since and was completely new to management.

Incredibly, Keegan saved them from relegation, Newcastle beating Leicester City away on the final day of the season to ensure their survival.  Yet it was only the beginning of an incredible era in the club's history. Exactly four years after Keegan's return to the north east,  Newcastle were top of the Premier League, nine points clear of Manchester United, having played a game less.

Now they were on the brink of a fairytale.  Keegan's team had thrilled the crowds with wonderful, exuberant attacking football.  Sky TV dubbed them The Entertainers.  They would take part in a game at Anfield that became widely recognised as the best the Premier League has ever seen.  Yet they lost that game and the season too would end in glorious failure as Manchester United, winning 13 of their last 15 games in that 1995-96 season, relentlessly chased them down.

Yet should such a memorable season really be recalled in terms of failure?  Martin Hardy, a north-east journalist, does not think so.  He believes some of the comments made about Keegan in the last 20 years, that his teams could not defend or that he crumbled in the face of Sir Alex Ferguson's mind games, are harsh and that going so close deserves to be celebrated.

Touching Distance, based on extensive interviews with Sir John Hall, with Keegan and other members of his coaching staff, and with many of the players, sets out to do that.   Hardy sets their recollections within a clever framework, with each chapter, more or less, based on a significant match, some historical -- it opens, for example, with Kevin Keegan's debut as a player in 1982 -- others providing a background narrative to the 1995-96 campaign.  For Black and White fans it will make compelling reading.

The Strange Death of English Leg Spin: How Cricket's Finest Art Was Given Away, by Justin Parkinson (Pitch Publishing) £12.99


Available from Amazon, WaterstonesWHSmith and other retailers

From the moment he delivered That Ball to Mike Gatting at Old Trafford in 1993, in every Test he played in thereafter it took only the announcement of his name over the public address to set off a murmur of anticipation: Shane Warne, the leg spinner, was coming on to bowl and anything could happen.

List the top 10 leg spinners of all time and, as well as being Australian or Asian, the majority are players from the last 20 or 30 years. Yet in the last half-century, England have used only seven specialist leg-spin bowlers, who have made just 24 Test appearances between them, even though, as Justin Parkinson explains, leg spin was originally the invention of an Englishman.

Between the wars, Yorkshire apart, every county had at least one proficient leg spinner, some more than one.  Parkinson theorises on what happened to change all that -- much of it down to lack of trust on the part of modern captains and coaches -- and comes up with some suggestions of his own as to how the trend might be reversed.  These include, intriguingly, compulsory participation in a game called twisti-twosti, without which the googly, it transpires, might never have been invented.

Ingemar Johansson: Swedish Heavyweight Boxing Champion, by Ken Brooks (McFarland) £27.50


Available from Amazon, Waterstones and other retailers

Ingemar Johansson’s right hand - dubbed “The Hammer of Thor” - was the most fearsome in boxing, and Johansson’s three fights with Floyd Patterson rank among the sport’s classic rivalries.

Yet most fans know little about the Swedish playboy who won the world heavyweight championship in 1959 with a shocking third round knock-out of Patterson.  He held the title for six days short of a year but during his brief reign he became a familiar figure in fashionable nightspots in New York and back at home.  He had a romance with Elizabeth Taylor and refused to kowtow to the mobsters who controlled boxing.

Ken Brooks's biography chronicles Johansson's rise to fame as a teenage prodigy in Gothenburg and how he had to be persuaded not to give up boxing after his humiliating disqualification in front of home fans at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, when his tactics in a match against the American Ed Sanders were interpreted as not putting up sufficient fight.  It charts his professional career and his life after boxing, which suffered when he began to develop dementia in his early 60s, almost certainly the consequence of blows to the head.

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