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Get Pumped for the Summer Olympics with These Inspiring Reads

"Beneath the Surface" by Michael Phelps, "Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream" by Ibtihaj Muhammad, and "Dream Team" by Jack McCallum.
Sports Publishing/Hachette Books/Ballantine Books

It’s been a crazy year, and amidst all the chaos, you might have forgotten that the Summer 2020 Olympics were postponed until 2021. The July 23 start date is fast approaching, so it’s time to psych yourself up with an inspiring book about an Olympic athlete.

The 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo are going to look a lot different than what we’re used to. For example, in March, it was reported that foreign visitors wouldn’t be allowed to visit Japan due to the pandemic.

However, even if there aren’t many spectators this year, few events have a global impact as compelling as the Olympic Games. The stories below are inspiring any time, but especially in the weeks leading up to the Games.

Beneath the Surface: My Story

Michael Phelps won his first gold medal in 2004. However, it wasn’t until 2008, when he shattered numerous records, including the most gold medals won in a single Olympic games, that he became a household name. In this autobiography, Phelps shares his journey as a swimmer dealing with ADD, trauma, and other challenges. He also shares details about his training routine and diet.

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance

Simone Biles’ autobiography shares how she became one of the most accomplished gymnasts of all time, while finding immense joy in her sport the entire time. Her story begins with a difficult upbringing that led her to live with, and later be adopted by, her grandparents.

Readers will admire the unwavering positive attitude she has throughout every experience, whether it’s bouncing around foster homes or struggling with ADHD for much of her life. Ultimately, this book is a reminder of why people devote their lives to a sport: the love of the game.

Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream

In her autobiography, Ibtihaj Muhammad gives her perspective on being the only woman of color and the only religious minority on Team USA’s saber fencing squad. Her story is both inspiring and frustrating. It clearly shows you the power of will, but will leave you wondering why something as simple as joining a sport can present so many meaningless obstacles.

Ultimately, this is a coming-of-age story that should be on the reading list of anyone who wants to restore their faith in the act of perseverance. Muhammad’s journey will resonate with the struggles of all minorities in the United States, whether they’re pursuing an Olympic sport or just trying to fit into a new life.

Misty: My Journey Through Volleyball and Life

Now retired, Misty May-Treanor was one of the most famous beach volleyball players of all time. In her autobiography, she explains how she became interested in the sport while growing up on the beach in Santa Monica, California, and the rocky childhood that led her to be so driven.

May-Treanor also shares how she met Kerri Walsh Jennings, another volleyball player who would later become her teammate. Read intimate details about the pair, how they trained together, and how they bonded to win gold medals in beach volleyball for three Olympics in a row, along with several world championship medals.

Mary Lou Retton: America's Sweetheart

You know how every inspiring video montage played at the Olympics has footage of a young girl performing a perfect vault with an injured knee? That’s Mary Lou Retton, who was the first American woman to win the all-around gold medal in Olympic gymnastics. She’s one of the most popular gymnasts of all time.

This biography tells her story, from her dreams of becoming an Olympian to what it was like to actually compete. Retton is a positive and inspiring figure that everyone can look up to.

Faster than Lightning: My Autobiography

Usain Bolt is known as the fastest man in the world, holding the men’s 100-meter dash record he set in 2009. His autobiography reminds his fans that he’s popular not only for his speed, but also for his charisma and positive outlook.

Bolt’s life began in Jamaica where he was born into modest circumstances. His love of sports and clear talent set him quickly on a competitive path from playing cricket in elementary school to running track and field around the world. The book is full of encouragement and is perfect for young readers or those struggling with any goal.

Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever

Read how Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird (among other sports stars) changed the game of basketball forever in the 1992 Olympics. Written by sports journalist, Jack McCallum, this book offers insight into how this famous basketball team was formed. It follows the team from inception, all the way to the gold medal ceremony in Barcelona in 1992.

There are also exclusive interviews with these basketball heroes, making this the perfect book for basketball and Olympics fans alike.

Letters to a Young Gymnast

Nadia Comaneci is known as one of the best gymnasts of all time due to her sheer perfection in the sport. In her autobiography, Comaneci shares anecdotes from her childhood, memories from competitions, and insights about what it took to achieve her level of success.

It’s a particularly inspiring book for female readers, as Comaneci’s rise in gymnastics put women’s sports in the spotlight in a way that had never been done before. The book also makes clear the sacrifices that are required to succeed in the Olympics.

The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m Final

This book is all about the 100-meter dash at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, for which Carl Lewis was awarded a gold medal after the previous winner, Ben Johnson, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Lewis was later accused of using drugs as well.

Read all the gripping details about how the race went down, and why it’s considered to be the best race in history by some, and the dirtiest by others. This intense story ultimately illustrates the incredible impact the Olympics has had around the world.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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