Fire on The Track / by Chakriya Phal

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I am all about the non-fiction and hope to read some interesting topics this year. First up is Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Triumph of the Early Olympic Women. This book details the history of the early USA women track in the 20s and 30s at a time when women’ participation in the sport was controversial. 

It primarily focuses on Betsy Robinson, who was the first women ever to win a gold medal in an Olympic track event,  but also introduces us to Stella Walsh, Babe Didrikson, and many other players in the sport. I enjoyed learning about the history of American women’ contributions (and wins) in women’s track and field. These athletes faced massive discrimination due to the social-cultural environment during that time. They were judged on their looks- too fragile or not feminine enough. Normally, “Fire on the Track” wouldn’t be on my radar but I’m glad I made it through to the end. It’s a piece of history I am glad I took the time to learn.  

Unfortunately, this book was a slow burn for me. It went high then dipped low and back high again as the story ends with the American women’s gold in The 1936 Olympics (ahem Nazi Germany). The first few chapters, written more like a novel, had my attention. However, having been introduced to an overload of names and important figures, my excitement for the story dwindled in the middle. My brain could not hold onto this many players in a single book. The writing style worked for some parts but often times felt like a script from a moving documentary. Except it was missing the most important element-the visuals. To feel more connected to the story I even went online to look up vintage footage of the athletes. There’s something satisfying seeing Hitler muttering under his breathe when Germany lost to the USA. What also failed for me was the lack of dialogue. We are told what Betty Robinson, Stella Walsh, and Helen Stephens said in interviews but often times the “dialogue” were strictly quotes from newspaper articles or radio shows. It felt passive and stopped me from fully engaging. Thus, I needed to take numerous breaks from the book.

I would pick this up if you want a true inspirational story but keep in mind that it might be one you’ll stop and return to numerous times. 

*Thank you Crown Publishing Group for the galley in exchange for an honest review.