CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 2 . . . . September 20, 2002
Jill Bryant's Amazing Women Athletes is the second of two titles published to date in Second Story Press's "Women's Hall of Fame Series." With this book, the self-acknowledged feminist publisher's purpose is to "demonstrate the wonderful accomplishments of women in sport all over the world." To that end, succinct biographies, comprised of five to seven pages on average, accompanied by black and white photographic reproductions of each athlete provide compelling evidence. According to the introductory remarks, these "Winning Women" were chosen not just on the basis of their love of sport and their competitive natures, but for their generosity in giving of themselves to the greater public good.
Amazing Women Athletes possesses a number of strengths, one of which is the impact of Stephanie Martin's cover design. Vivid action shots of Hayley Wickenheiser, Chantal Petitclerc, Sandra Schmirler, and Serena Williams in mid-competition are set in a black background which simultaneously plays up the dramatic color contrast of the title text as well. Between the covers, Bryant's writing style exhibits a straightforward simplicity, and she thoughtfully defines terms and concepts (such as "Victorian society") that may be unfamiliar to younger readers. Sidebar text boxes contain further explanatory notes that may identify "firsts" in a particular event, or may describe what is meant by titles such as "Triple Crown" and "Grand Slam." Readers will be attracted to the fresh and vibrant personalities with popular appeal, such as Wickenheiser and trend-setting sisters Venus and Serena Williams. Throughout the book, the author sensitively portrays the athletes' struggles and shortcomings as well as their triumphs. The reader learns that each woman in her athletic career has had to overcome obstacles, whether that has meant curbing a quick temper, encountering prejudice, or recovering from physical injury. Since Amazing Women Athletes recognizes the groundbreaking achievements of women in sport, it should, in turn, encourage young females to strive for personal excellence in their athletic pursuits.
Yet, despite the book's assets, it falls short of its goal. For instance, in its slender-spined 80 pages, Amazing Women Athletes surveys a total of only ten women from four countries involved in eight sports: a "top ten" list that shortchanges most of the "women in sport all over the world" (www.secondstorypress.on.ca). Admittedly, it is gratifying as a Canadian to find that one's own country is well-represented by the likes of Bobbie Rosenfeld, Sandra Schmirler, Chantal Petitclerc, and Hayley Wickenheiser. Team Canada's gold medal victory in women's hockey at the recent 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City makes Wickenheiser's inclusion all the sweeter. By contrast, a reader is hard-pressed not to conclude that Chen Lu of China and Cathy Freeman of Australia are the only two remarkable female athletes in the world who do not originate from North America. Nor are the select ten athletes evenly distributed across time, the first two having been born in 1850 and 1903, whereas the remaining eight were born post-1960. Furthermore, while mountain climbing, running, wheelchair racing, horse racing, tennis, curling, hockey, and ice-skating are represented, golf, soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball, gymnastics, and watersports receive little or no mention.
Likely the book's imbalances would have been corrected if it had either widened its scope to include more women athletes outside North America, or if it had narrowed its focus specifically to Canadian women athletes. However, had Second Story chosen the latter option, it would have run the risk of duplicating the National Library of Canada's (NLC) "Celebrating Women's Achievements" Web page. The NLC's initiative links to 16 biographies of notable Canadian women athletes, and was, like Amazing Women Athletes, launched in September 2001 - just in time for October's Women's History Month. As it stands, its liberal serving of homey North American content, with a distinctive but not overpowering Canadian tang, makes Amazing Women Athletes more palatable for American audiences (it was published in the U.S.A. this year). And although the book contains gaps, it includes a "Sources" section that lists additional, supplementary resources about women athletes: hopefully young readers will consult this aid in order to fill in the missing pieces.
Now that summer has officially arrived, Julie Chychota can finally enjoy bicycling along Ottawa's scenic Colonel By Drive.
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