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Cass Flynn, after a grueling year of surgeries and rehab, has made it back to top physical condition. She is named an alternate for the 2008 Olympics double scull US Rowing Team. While disappointed she won’t be going to Beijing, she continues on the comeback path. Then she gets a call. THE call. There have been injuries in Beijing. Cass is no longer an alternate, she is now an Olympiad. She has a scant few weeks to acclimate herself to the climate, Beijing’s choking smog, a new rowing partner, and a new team. One of her new teammates, Laura Kelley, is sent to pick her up from the airport, and very nearly leaves her stranded there, getting them off on the wrong foot. Nevertheless, there is something intriguing about Laura.
Cass is able to work well with her new rowing partner, Sarah. She begins to believe that she and Sarah have a chance of winning a medal. The more Cass interacts with Laura, the more she’s sure Laura has a dark secret that Laura can’t seem to overcome. It all begins to make sense as she learns what Laura’s secret is.
Robinson has a talent for writing scenes in which the tension builds, like her description of the medal race for the double scull and its aftermath. She also writes about being a rower so well that the reader will eagerly look forward to the 2012 Olympics’ boating races.
The author’s forte is in writing about the sport she obviously loves. Her talent does not lie in developing her characters. Cass is the only character that readers will feel like they know, mainly because the book is told from her point of view. The others, including Laura, remain elusively understated. Late in the book, Robinson introduces Laura’s ex-girlfriend, a woman so toxic she could light up a Geiger counter. Robinson could have had a character that we’d all love to hate, had she spent more time on her. Unfortunately, like her other characters, Ms. Toxic remained underdeveloped. Worse, the character’s comeuppance was more or less a throwaway sentence or two so the reader doesn’t even get to applaud her downfall.
Other than the repeated references to the heat and humidity of Beijing, there are no descriptions of the city even when the athletes leave the Olympic Village to explore it. There are no description of the other athletes, even the members of Cass’ team. There are no descriptions of the Olympic Village beyond a reference to a couple of the venues, the cafeteria and a room where the athletes can access the Internet. Robinson missed an opportunity here to make the Olympics another character in her book.
Unfortunately, Robinson could have used a firmer editorial hand. Such a hand would have helped her flesh out her characters and add to the exoticism of Beijing. Robinson has a tendency to repeat herself often and to use the same phrase sometimes within the space of a single page. Then there are the sentences that take the reader out of the book because she has to stop and try to figure out what the author was trying to say. One particularly annoying awkward sentence was, “You don’t know how could I have gotten that idea?”
With the 2012 Olympics only a year away, this book is worth the read if only to begin to understand what it takes to be an Olympic rower, the price it exacts, and the costs of winning and losing.
By Pol Robinson