BY JOHN DEVITT AND LARRY WRITER, STOKE HILL PRESS, $39.95
Cecil Healy is among those Australian sporting tales that deserve to be better-known. He entered into Olympic lore in the 1912 Stockholm Games as the virtuous competitor who insisted that the American great, Duke Kahanamoku, be allowed to contest the 100m final after the Hawaiian great missed the semi after confusion over the start time. Healy insisted he wouldn’t race if the Duke could not; both did, and Healy finished second to Kahanamoku.
If that weren’t enough of a legacy, Healy is also the only Australian Olympic gold medallist to have died at war. A lieutenant in the AIF, he was killed in fighting at the Somme, some 74 days before the armistice was signed. He was 36.
The meta-narrative of this biography is almost as good as the subject – John Devitt, the 100m free champion of the 1960 Olympics, regards Healy as his sporting hero. Combining with Larry Writer, who has written previous books on Rod Laver, St George’s rugby league dynasty and the ’36 Berlin Olympics, this is also the story of the authors delving into the legend of Healy, around the Sydney pools and beaches that produced him, to the grounds of officer training in Britain.
The Australian Olympic Committee recently announced a new award named after Healy, which it will hand out every Games to honour a great act of sportsmanship. Between that honour and this fine book, one can only hope that Healy’s life and example gain their proper fame.
Good for: Those seeking a true-life Boys’ Own tale, and for its portrait of Australia at the turn of the century.