Six sports are represented on the list, the majority sharing a common theme in that they dig deep into the psyche of their subjects, showing how their strengths and weaknesses helped and hindered them in the pursuit of their dreams.
This is demonstrated in two memoirs set against the backdrop of the sea - Barbarian Days, by journalist William Finnegan, and Find a Way, by swimmer Diana Nyad.
Barbarian Days, surfing’s first appearance in the 'Bookie Prize' field and already a Pulitzer Prize-winner, tells the story of a restless young man whose sport both anchors him and takes him around the world as he becomes an adult.
Diana Nyad’s memoir is a testimony to the indomitability of the human spirit: a world class swimmer at a very young age, Nyad first attempted to swim the 100 miles between Havana, Cuba and the coast of Florida without a shark cage aged 28 and achieved the feat - the first person to complete the treacherous crossing - over three decades later, aged 64.
Oliver Kay’s Forever Young investigates the short life of eccentric football prodigy Adrian Doherty, who was offered a five-year contract with Manchester United on his 17th birthday, yet died in unexplained circumstances having never realised his true potential.
The unpredictable character of former cricketer, writer and broadcaster Peter Roebuck, another figure who died tragically young, comes under the microscope in Tim Lane and Elliott Cartledge’s Chasing Shadows.
Rick Broadbent is on the shortlist for the third time with Endurance, which looks at the life of Olympic track legend Emil Zátopek. The greatest runner of his generation, Zátopek’s character was sorely tested as he fell from favour with his country’s Communist rulers, suffering countless indignities before coming in from the cold following Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution.
Rounding off the list are Rory Smith’s Mister, which looks at how pioneer Englishmen helped export football to the world, and Christopher McGrath’s Mr Darley’s Arabian, which tells the story of horse racing by following the bloodline of twenty-five thoroughbreds, from a colt bought from Bedouin tribesmen over 300 years ago, to the modern champion, Frankel.
The seven titles in the running to be crowned the winner of the £28,000 prize are:
- Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zátopek, by Rick Broadbent (Wisden). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
- Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan (Corsair). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
- Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius, by Oliver Kay (Quercus). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
- Chasing Shadows: The Life & Death of Peter Roebuck, by Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge (Hardie Grant Books). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
- Mr Darley’s Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life – A History of Racing in 25 Horses, by Christopher McGrath (John Murray), Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
- Find a Way: One Untamed and Courageous Life, by Diana Nyad (Macmillan). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
- Mister: The Men Who Taught the World How to Beat England at Their Own Game, by Rory Smith (Simon & Schuster). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith
William Hill spokesman, judges' chair and co-founder of the award, Graham Sharpe, said:
“From an incredibly strong longlist a ‘Magnificent Seven’ of sporting books go forward, but from here on in the race is wide open.
"What is striking in this year’s selection is how the authors uncover the inner sportsman and sportswoman, revealing their hidden souls and proving that they are not just great athletes but also complex, driven people. These are brilliant, revelatory stories that our panel of experts will have a tough time judging.”
The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world’s longest established and most valuable sports writing prize. As well as a £28,000 cash prize, the winning author will receive a free £2,500 William Hill bet, and a day at the races.
The judging panel comprises journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson; ex-player and former chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association, Clarke Carlisle; broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and The Times columnist and author, Alyson Rudd.
Graham Sharpe succeeds the late John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop, as chairman. John retired following the 2015 Award and sadly passed away earlier this year.
The winner will be announced at an afternoon reception at BAFTA, in central London, on Thursday November 24.
Longlist announced for William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2016