Quick! Choose the ten most amazing female athletes of all time, from any sport and any country. Not an easy task and, to be accurate, not quite the one taken on by author Jill Bryant. Her book Amazing Women Athletes claim to feature neither the top ten nor the most amazing women in sport history.
The women profiled represent an admirably broad spectrum of sport¨from the usual track and field, figure skating and tennis, to the less mainstream, curling, mountain-climbing, and horse racing. The athletes themselves include the famous, such as Serena and Venus Williams, Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser, and Australian Cathy Freeman, the familiar¨figure skater Chen Lu, curler Sandra Schmirler and wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc¨and a few whose names are less known¨Julie Krone, Annie Smith Peck and Bobbie Rosenfeld. But why these ten? Why not Jackie Joyner-Kersee or Martina Navratilova? Or how about Nadia Comaneci?
Bryant has considered the personal as well as the professional sides of these athletes' lives in making her choices. The introduction explains that these women not only accomplished tremendous athletic feats, but also overcame personal challenges such as prejudice, injuries or lack of support for their endeavors. Bryant says they have also distinguished themselves in the way they interact with the public and use their fame to assist a charity or further a worthwhile cause.
Many of the bios begin with a brief, almost narrative look at one particular event in the featured sports figure's life. I feel these are the strongest sections in the book. In these clear snapshots the real person comes through. Bryant manages to bring out the unique spirit of each of these individuals, allowing a glimpse of the personality behind the medals and achievements.
The remainder of each profile contains two or three black-and-white photos and well researched details of the triumphs and defeats of an athletic career. Unlike the early glimpses, however, many of these details are presented as straightforward, almost detached facts. At times, the author makes it very clear what impact a particular victory, defeat or injury had on the athlete. Other times, however, the reader is left to surmise for herself the importance of the events presented. The personal and professional obstacles which, according to the introduction, are what makes these women worthy of inclusion in the collection, are in some instances almost glossed over. Canadian curling legend Sandra Schmirler balanced motherhood with the exigencies of maintaining her world-class status, yet the reader is given almost no examples of the sacrifices made or difficulties faced. Similarly, the text contains little about obstacles, political, bureaucratic, etc., overcome by Chinese figure skater Chen Lu.
Amazing Women Athletes succeeds in presenting the facts about these ten particular sports figures and their achievements and gives some insights into their personalities. Readers wanting a more up-close-and-personal look, however, will have to turn to other sources.
Trudee Romanek is a children's writer who lives in Barrie, Ontario.