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For some of us, staying at home means having more time to read a good book.

Here is our selection, one for each sport, of books about the possibly little-known stories of exceptional athletes…

FOOTBALL – Storie Mondiali. Un secolo di calcio in 10 avventure (World Cup Stories. A century of football in 10 adventures), Federico Buffa and Carlo Pizzigoni

Federico Buffa, an extraordinary TV storyteller, recounts the most evocative pages in the history of the Football World Cup in 10 chapters. Not just goals and unforgettable stars but also the music, atmosphere, politics and tales of the twentieth century: the century of football. Because «Anyone who only knows football knows nothing of football».

TENNIS – Andre Agassi, Open, Einaudi

Open is the book that, without exaggeration, proved a definitive turning point in the way sport is perceived in world literature. At last an athlete tells his own story without hiding behind the mask of fame, without resorting to words written just to satisfy the fans. The introspection with which Agassi expresses himself means that this book transcends the sphere of simple biography to become a novel. Pain, loneliness and anxiety – not trophies, fun and the good life. This is the greatness of Open, the aspect that brings the book closer to the reader regardless of the specific world – tennis – that it describes. Because ultimately are we not all, or nearly all, forced every day to do something that we dislike to earn a living, to please somebody or, more simply, to live the only kind of life we know?  “I hate tennis, I hate it with all my heart yet I keep playing, I keep knocking a ball about all morning, all afternoon, because I have no choice”. What is more human, more universally recognisable, than this sentence?

MOUNTAINEERING – Katia Lafaille, Senza di lui (without him), CDA & Vivalda

The irrational, burning and all-consuming passion for a sport is seen, in this book by Katia Lafaille, from a positive and constructive perspective. Katia, a highly talented Swiss mountaineer with a great future, gave up her career through her love for the man of her life, Jean-Christophe Lafaille, one of the greatest mountaineers of the early 21st century. Katia became his manager, press officer and expedition organiser, recalibrating his relationship with the mountains in an amateur rather than a professional vein. All until 2006 when Jean-Christophe, like many of his colleagues in recent years, was defeated by the power of the mountains, killed by the 8,000 metres of Makalu, the fifth-highest summit on earth located between Nepal and Tibet. From that moment on Katia was forced to live without the man she loved above all else and also – above all – to make her peace with the mountains, accepting not only their greatness but also the misery that they can inflict. What emerges is a sincere and passionate portrayal of professional mountaineering, described with the lucid realism of a person who acknowledges the almost supernatural power of mountains to simultaneously grant life and death.

WALKING – Andrea Schiavon, Cinque cerchi e una stella (five circles and a star) , add Editore

The attack by Palestinian Black September commandos at the 1972 Munich Olympics is one of the most sadly notorious terrorist acts in sports history. But not many people know that one of the survivors of the Israeli team was a certain Shaul Ladany, a walker. In the walking event, held the day before the attack on the Olympic village, Ladanay had finished 19th. A far from spectacular result, certainly not worthy of being engraved in the annals of sporting history. So why all the attention on Ladanay? Why go so far as to devote a book to him? Because, as well as the 1972 attack, Ladanay had already succeeded in surviving another, even bigger massacre: the Holocaust. One year at Bergen-Belsen, at the age of 8, he witnessed the death of almost  his entire family. Later he moved to Israel, achieving a degree in engineering and developing a lasting passion for competitive walking, the most gruelling athletic discipline after (or alongside) the marathon. But his real walk, more than on the synthetic surface of a track (which nonetheless won him 28 medals in his own country and two qualifications for the Olympics), was through history: from the Holocaust to Munich, from the Six Day War to Yom Kippur, from Eichmann to Nixon. Ladanay walked through the twentieth century, playing an active part firstly in the history of his people and then of his country. With all the effort, cramps and sweat of a walker. But without ever losing the smile that went together with his round glasses, always aware – despite the atrocities he had witnessed – of the richness of life. “Should we describe you as the survivor par excellence?”, reporters often asked him. “I wouldn’t know”, he answered “you could definitely say that my life has never seen any boring moments”.

RUGBY – Playing the Enemy, John Carlin

After twenty-three years in prison, Nelson Mandela won back his freedom and became President of South Africa. But he still had another, even tougher challenge to face: apartheid. He achieved it with the help of rugby and the incredible 1995 World Cup, won by the Springboks..

BASKETBALL – Altro Tiro Altro Giro Altro Regalo, Flavio Tranquillo

Flavio Tranquillo, the celebrated sports journalist, tells the story of his love for basketball. Its history, stars and strategies through the expert eye of someone who has always had a close-up view of the sport. An exciting account.

MARATHON – Il testamento del Maratoneta: una storia vera (the tale of the marathon runner: a true story) Manuel Sgarella

The incredible and little-known adventure of Carlo Airoldi who in 1896 walked from Milan to Athens without a penny in his pocket, to take part in the first modern Olympics. Two thousand kilometres to make history.

CYCLING – Alberto Toscano, Gino Bartali. Una bici contro il Fascismo (a bicycle against fascism) , Baldini + Castoldi

Gino Bartali, partly due to his closed, introspective, authentically hard Tuscan character (also summed up by his concise but apt nickname: Ginettaccio), never enjoyed the favour of the spotlight. That privilege went to his rival Fausto Coppi, despite being forced to share his victories with Ginettaccio, and it was to Coppi that one of the RAI TV channel’s best ever vocal “close-ups” was dedicated: “Just one man in control. His jersey is blue and white. His name is Fausto Coppi”. This was how radio commentator Mario Ferretti, with skilful dramatic effect, described the penultimate stage of the 1949 Giro d’Italia to the thousands, if not millions, of Italians glued to their radios. The stage was sufficiently epic as to impress Dino Buzzati, bewitched by what he called “magical cycling inspired by the infernal effort”. And taking second place in that stage was Bartali, often destined to play second fiddle despite the fact that he too, with a record of three victories in the Giro d’Italia and two in the Tour de France, was a champion. In Gino Bartali. Una bici contro il Fascismo (Gino Bartali. A bicycle against fascism), Alberto Toscano sets out to recast Bartali with the merit that he deserves, showing readers not only the champion but above all the man. He who, in silence and without bragging, saved thousands of Jews by carrying false documents in the frame of his bicycle, for the simple reason that it was the “right thing to do”. A simple man, a devoted husband and a religious Italian who, for this very reason, was liked by the general public and who, in his modesty, opposed the myths of fascist propaganda. A great human being and, at the same time, legendary in the strength of his exertions: a Sisyphus who, instead of a rock, constantly forced his bicycle uphill.

 

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