Roseanne Montillo offers a close look at the first female track and field Olympians in her book Fire on the Track. Much of the history focuses on Betty Robinson. But detailed backgrounds of Babe Didrikson, Stella Walsh and Helen Stephens are also outlined. Participants in the Olympic games of 1928, 1932 and 1936 are the focus of the work.
Fire on the Track captures you from the start with a narrative of the 1931 plane crash that badly injured Robinson. This style sets the stage for the remainder of the book. Montillo writes a very readable presentation of non-fiction and thus captures a wider audience.
However, due to some very intimate details, I only recommend Fire on the Track for high school age and above. Some of the runners, Stephens in particular, suffered in a manner that would easily qualify her for inclusion in the #Me Too movement. The greatest change over time is the desire in the past to hide the atrocities. Since Montillo has been thorough in her reporting of history, I personally would shield younger readers from this narrative. But I think it is appropriate and important for the mature audience to learn of these past events.
Olympic Track and Field
Having established those parameters, I strongly recommend this book. As a runner, I had a smattering of knowledge about most of the individuals covered in this historical account. But, I did not know of the many difficulties faced by these trailblazing women. Nor did I fully appreciate how much discrimination continued even after the inclusion of track and field events for women in the Olympic Games.
Montillo balances the personal stories of the individual runners with the political and economic events of the time period. Climate played a role as well. The late twenties and the decade of the thirties comprised a period of struggle. The relative prosperity of 1928 yielded to the Dust Bowl days, bread lines and loss of property. All of which are expertly woven into the account.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the personalities of the runners. These young women participated in competition during an era not particularly accepting of the idea of gender equality in sport. Each of the runners were exceptional. Each faced obstacles. And each handled the spotlight differently. Either pick up a copy at your nearest library or buy a copy. Put this book on your list.