The Diamond Horse ~ A cool read for summer!

Cover of the Diamond HorseD’you know what arrived at the library the other day? Brand new copies of Stacy Gregg‘s twenty-first pony book, that’s what! If there’s a horse-mad tweenage kid in your life, guaranteed, this is the perfect summer read. It’s exciting, gripping, full of exotic animals and horses (of course) , and – according to Miss Missy – it’s Stacy Gregg’s best ever book. Miss Missy’s got to be one of Stacy’s biggest fans, so I reckon she knows what she’s talking about.

We were lucky enough to get our hands on a copy of The Diamond Horse recently, and we both thoroughly enjoyed this story of two Russian girls linked across time by their love of horses and a mystical diamond necklace. Anna Orlov is the daughter of a Russian Count, but all the beautiful dresses, exotic pets, and royal banquets don’t make up for the fact that her father ignores and belittles her, and her brother bullies her relentlessly. Valentina is an orphan who rides a beautiful pink horse in a Russian Circus act, and dreams of a better life for herself and her beloved horse.

I loved the way Stacy mixed history and modern legend into this tale of two feisty girls who refused to let anyone crush their dreams. The story of Anna is inspired by the real Anna Orlov, whose father developed the Orlov Trotter horse breed, and was a courtier of Catherine the Great. The story of Valentina and her horse, Sasha, is inspired by the true story of Balagur, a modern day Orlov Trotter, who surprised the dressage world by winning competition after competition, all the way up to the Olympics. I also loved the descriptions of the snow-covered Russian landscape, which were so realistic I felt like I needed to wrap up in a blanket to keep warm.

Miss Missy said that she enjoyed learning about the origins of Orlov Trotters (of course, she knows the name of every breed of horse known to man, so the name Orlov rang a bell for her, while going completely over my head). She also enjoyed the family dynamics, which, she told me, is not the sort of thing Stacy Gregg usually writes about. I asked Miss Missy what one word she would use to describe this book; she said “Exquisite” and I can’t think of a better one!

The Diamond Horse
by Stacy Gregg
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008124410

Podcast – Human Rights and the Olympics

Speak Up Kōrerotia logoChristchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from New Zealand’s only specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.

With the Rio Olympics due to start next month, this episode discusses human rights in the sporting context and touches on subjects such as –

  • The portrayal of sportswomen in the media
  • Paralympics and breaking down barriers of perceptions of able-bodied and disabled people
  • Human rights abuses perpetrated in the lead-up to and during Olympic Games
  • Steps taken by the International Olympic Committee to redress these abuses
  • The world of elite gymnastics

The panel for this show includes Sally Carlton, Roslyn Kerr from Lincoln University, whose research looks at the world of elite gymnastics, Ashley Abbott from the New Zealand Olympic Committee, and Barbara Kendall, five-time Olympian and member of the International Olympic Committee. This discussion is preceded by an interview with William Stedman, New Zealand’s youngest Paralympian for Rio 2016.

 

Transcript of the audio file

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Celebrate our Olympians with Golden Kiwis

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are now only a few weeks away. They start on 5 August and run until 21 August. There are around 350 athletes and support staff that make up this year’s New Zealand Olympic team. I wonder how many medals we will win this time?

New Zealand author David Riley has just written a great book all about the amazing athletes who have won gold medals at the Olympic Games over the years. The book is called Golden Kiwis and David takes us on a journey through ‘100 years of Kiwi excellence in the Olympic Games.’

David gives us some background information on the Olympic Games, from the very first Olympics in Greece in 8BC through to the modern Olympics of today that started in 1896. You then learn about the outstanding sporting feats of all of our gold medal winners, from our very first with Malcolm Champion (great name for an athlete!) in 1912, through to Valerie Adams and Lisa Carrington. It’s great to see that Golden Paralympians like Sophie Pascoe are also included in the book.

There are some really great features of this book that I like. There are heaps of photos of the athletes, especially the action shots of them competing in their sports. One of the coolest features of the book is that David has included QR codes with each athlete so that you can scan the code and watch a video of them competing and winning.

Golden Kiwis is an inspiring book that just goes to prove you can achieve your goals if you set your mind to it.

We have an author interview with David Riley and here is a video of him talking about his book, Golden Kiwis:

If you want to find out more about the Olympics and New Zealand sportspeople try these:

We also have a great page about the Olympics for kids on our website so check that out for more information and links to other great websites.

Striking Gold: Sporting achievement amidst political turmoil

Cover of Striking GoldIt’s 1976 and the Olympic games are being held in Montreal, Canada. In protest at New Zealand’s attendance at the games and ongoing sporting association with Apartheid South Africa (specifically the All Blacks continuing to tour there), many African nations refuse to take part in the games.

This was not our finest hour as a nation. So you can imagine that telling the story of a plucky band of Kiwi hockey players who achieve Olympic gold against the odds (in the final they faced an Australian team who had a 13 game winning-streak against them) – is somewhat problematic given the setting.

Fortunately in Striking gold: New Zealand hockey’s remarkable victory at the 1976 Olympics author and journalist Suzanne McFadden has done a great job of sitting the stories of these individual players in amongst both the history of hockey in New Zealand, but more importantly the political and social context of that time. In reading the book I’ve learned at least as much about the politics of the era as I have about the sport.

I asked author Suzanne McFadden a few questions about the book, and what she was hoping to achieve in writing it.

Your background is in sports journalism and you’re a self-professed fan of hockey. Was writing this book your “dream gig”?

Suzanne McFaddenIt was definitely a dream first book for me to write, in so many ways. Hockey was my sporting passion as a kid, and growing up, I was aware New Zealand had won an Olympic gold medal in hockey, but I didn’t know a lot more about the story behind it. Very few Kiwis did. As a journalist (now in my 30th year), my passion has always been people – and telling rich human interest stories. And Striking Gold is really a collection of great yarns about a bunch of great Kiwi blokes, who may have come from very different walks of life, but all shared the same passion – to win Olympic gold.

How important was it to you that you cover the social history and context in which all this was happening?

It was hugely important. I didn’t want Striking Gold to be branded as “a hockey book”, or “an Olympics book”.  I wanted it to portray an era in New Zealand where sport was still played on a purely amateur basis; where the men in the New Zealand hockey team also held down full-time jobs and helped raise young families. They had balance in their lives.

Although it was an amateur era, they were absolutely professional in their approach to the sport.  Players like Barry Maister, John Christensen and their captain, Tony Ineson, would head down to “Hospital Corner” at Hagley Park every week-day lunchtime to practise their penalty corner moves, hundreds of times over, and then return to work. It was critical, too, to describe the political backdrop, especially when New Zealand’s sporting contacts with South Africa cast such a shadow over the 1976 Olympics.

Do you think we New Zealanders have really “processed” the part our country played in the controversy of the Montreal Games? My feeling is that we seem to gloss over that period a bit.

I’ve been surprised that so many people had no idea that the All Blacks tour of South Africa in ’76 threatened to derail the Montreal Olympics.  We remember the Springbok tour protests of 1981, but the shame of 1976 is like a part of our history that we’ve conveniently extinguished.

The hockey gold medallists certainly remember it very vividly, recalling being too embarrassed to wear their New Zealand tracksuits around the athletes’ village. Some of them maintain it should have been the New Zealanders sent home from Montreal instead of the African nations who walked out.

There are some amazing things that happened to the players in this champion team.  What was your favourite story that you came across in doing research for this book?

There are so many! But one of the great finds was the Jack Lovelock letter, hidden in an old leather suitcase in Selwyn Maister’s home in Christchurch.

The letter of thanks was sent from Lovelock soon after he won his Olympic gold medal in the 1500m at the 1936 Berlin Games, addressed to Havilah Down – Maister’s grandfather who essentially ran hockey in New Zealand for 30 years. The lovely coincidence was that 40 years after that letter was sent, Maister would join Lovelock as the only two Rhode Scholars to have won an Olympic gold medal for New Zealand.

Sometimes Kiwis aren’t good about talking about their achievements as it’s considered “skiting” to some. In speaking with the players were they reticent to talk about their experiences or were they pretty forthcoming?

Initially, some of the players wondered why I would even want to write a book about a sporting tournament that happened four decades ago, and whether we would print just enough copies for them to hand out to their children and grandchildren… They are a truly humble bunch! But once they started talking, they opened up and shared some incredible memories.

They never bragged about being the best team in the world; instead they marvelled in how they came together as a perfect unit, and with a lot of hard work, skill and even a little luck, beat the world’s best.

Do you think there are other, equally extraordinary, “hidden” sports stories in New Zealand history that are waiting to be written?

Absolutely – especially from sports considered outside the mainstream. It’s just a matter of finding the time to tell them all!

If someone were interested in this period of sporting history, what books would you recommend they read?

Cover of Old heroesFor more about New Zealand’s performances at the 1976 Olympics, you can read Ivan Agnew’s book Aim High. There are some great New Zealand sports books on the 1950s and ‘60s – Arthur’s Boys by Joseph Romanos, detailing the astonishing achievements of Arthur Lydiard’s track athletes; and Old Heroes, Warwick Roger’s excellent recollection of the 1956 Springboks tour of New Zealand.

Even if your non-fiction reading doesn’t usually lean towards the sporting, I’d recommend giving Striking gold a go as it’s an engaging read that pulls you with its cast of hockey personalities, turbulent geo-politics, and unlikely twists and turns.

Win a copy of Striking Gold

We have one copy of this fascinating book to giveaway. Entry is open to Christchurch City Libraries cardholders. Simply leave a comment with your suggestion of a great sporting or history read by 5pm Friday 22 April to go in the draw. A winner will be announced on Tuesday 26 April.

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Olympic nostalgia

book coverI came across the story of Violet Walrond, our first female Olympian, who went to the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. It is a lovely but rather sad story of a young woman who probably never fulfilled her sporting potential. Against her were the conventions of the times, the tyranny of distance (9 weeks on a boat just to get to the games) and a lack of proper coaching.

The golden girls who grace our television screens today as rowers, hockey players, swimmers and track and field athletes, in some ways have it easier and owe a lot to Violet’s pioneering courage (she was only 15 when she travelled across the world to the games). Interestingly her friend and fellow competitor was a Cantabrian Gwitha Shand who went to the 1924 Paris Olympics.

If you are interested in exploring aspects of the Olympics we have several pages to help you.