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Survivor By Fatima Whitbread

Release date: 14th July, 2012
Publisher: Ebury Press

List Price: £7.99
Our Price: £5.99
You Save: £2 (25%)
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Steve Sanders mulls over an incredible but inspirational tale of one of Britain's best-loved Olympians....

After years of waiting, London's Olympic Games are finally here and so too are the world's greatest runners, jumpers, swimmers, cyclers and throwers, each one given an opportunity to write their names into sporting folklore.

It was one of Britain's greatest-ever throwers, Fatima Whitbread, who did precisely that by taking bronze in the javelin in the 1984 Games and silver four years later. But it was at the 1987 World Championships in Rome where she imprinted herself onto the public's collective consciousness, winning gold and celebrating with her customary wiggle.

Her journey to the top was besieged by anxieties, injuries and her famous rivalry with fellow British javelin thrower Tessa Sanderson, but Whitbread only had to recall her traumatic childhood to appreciate that things could be much worse than a niggling shoulder injury.

Abandoned by her Turkish Cypriot mother when she was just three months old, Whitbread grew up in care, living under the totalitarian rule of a fearsome Mr and Mrs Smith from the age of five.

Young Fatima's only contact with her mother from that point exposed her to rejection, child labour and a horrifying case of sexual abuse, with her father making little attempt to get to know his daughter. Without the affections of doting parents, she grew up feeling unloved and unwanted.

But after meeting javelin coach Margaret Whitbread, Fatima's life was transformed. Margaret took 14-year-old Fatima under her wing and into her home, fostering her and becoming her coach on a long road to becoming the world's best.

It is her deep appreciation of family values, of which the young Fatima was so cruelly deprived in her formative years, that is perhaps the most poignant aspect of Survivor. Whitbread's vivid memories of her happiness at being taken in by her foster family are genuinely touching.

Indeed, rarely can a successful sportsperson's autobiography have contained so little of their competitive achievements, but Fatima Whitbread's remarkable and distressing upbringing makes for such an engrossing tale that readers will not feel short-changed.

Given everything that comes before, stories of life with Peter Andre in the 'I'm A Celebrity' jungle feel like a surreally trivial anti-climax, but Whitbread's ability as a storyteller remains thankfully undimmed, irrespective of the subject about which she's writing. In fact, any Olympian shorn of inspiration should read Survivor to realise how difficult the road to the top can be. Few will have had it as tough as the estimable Ms Whitbread.


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