Fire on the Track

Medha Upadhyay

4 Stars

November 10, 2017

I just finished Fire on the Track By Roseanne Montillo, and I loved the way that it told the story of the early Olympics.  

When Betty Robinson assumed the starting position at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, she was participating in what was only her fourth-ever organized track meet. She crossed the finish line as a gold medalist and the fastest woman in the world. This improbable athletic phenom was an ordinary high school student, discovered running for a train in rural Illinois mere months before her Olympic debut. Amsterdam made her a star. 

But at the top of her game, her career (and life) almost came to a tragic end when a plane she and her cousin were piloting crashed. So dire was Betty’s condition that she was taken to the local morgue; only upon the undertaker’s inspection was it determined she was still breathing. Betty, once a natural runner who always coasted to victory, soon found herself fighting to walk.  While Betty was recovering, the other women of Track and Field were given the chance to shine in the Los Angeles Games, building on Betty’s pioneering role as the first female Olympic champion in the sport. These athletes became more visible and more accepted, as stars like Babe Didrikson and Stella Walsh showed the world what women could do. And—miraculously—through grit and countless hours of training, Betty earned her way onto the 1936 Olympic team, again locking her sights on gold as she and her American teammates went up against the German favorites in Hitler’s Berlin. 

So of course, I’ve had a bit of Olympic fever since 2016. It was the year of Michael Phelps, okay? 

When I saw this book, the idea of reading about the early Olympics intrigued me. Not only did I get to read about Betty, this book also featured several other amazing athletes, and the struggles that these women faced in their Olympic. Despite what it may seem like, athletics were only one of their problems. From concerns about how ugly they looked while running, funding travels during the recession, and the complications of amateur athletics, these women fought hard. Reading about all the key players, and how politics and nasty cultural divides got in the way of these amazing athletes, helped me see the other sides of the story as well. The story was not only about Betty Robinson, though it did focus on her. It gave a clear picture of Women’s Track and Field from 1928 to 1936, and everything that was affecting their work on the track. 

Betty’s marvelous comeback story was of course the highlight of this book. It is nearly unfathomable to think of how close she was to death. Yet she still fought back. Her first gold medal had been nearly handed to her. The first time she ran an informal one hundred yard dash, she was a hundredth of a second off the world record. She had barely trained for a few months before the Olympics, and squeezed in running around her prior commitments to drama, bake sales, and volunteering. But eight years later, things had changed. She had nearly died. She had fought for every step.  

The way that this story is written brings all the characters to life. By not only focusing on one character, I was able to gain a better understanding of the time period and issue as a whole. Some ugly and sad truths were exposed along the way, but that’s the way things were.  

All of the stories presented in this book were intriguing and memorable, but Betty’s give a good reminder of the importance of resilience.

Disclaimer: I received this book for reviewing from