Iron War: Two Incredible Athletes, One Epic Rivalry and the Greatest Race of All Time (Anglais) Broché – 3 janvier 2013
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The battle between Dave Scott and Mark Allen at the 13th Hawaii Ironman stands as one of the most dramatic stories in the history of athletics. The two greatest athletes of triathlon's pioneering generation raced side by side, literally, for eight straight hours at breakneck speed before Allen finally tore away from his longtime nemesis with less than two miles left in the 140.6-mile event. His margin of victory was a scant 58 seconds. So intense was the drama, the race came to be known as 'Iron War' - the single most awe-inspiring sporting event ever witnessed.
More than a compelling story, Iron War is a fascinating exploration of how Scott and Allen pushed themselves and each other - and what it takes for anyone to break through perceived limits. Much as Christopher McDougall added depth to Born to Run by tying in new research on the evolutionary origins of humans as runners, Iron War shows how new discoveries in neuroscience explain how some elite athletes are able to literally will their bodies to do things that should be beyond their capacities. The book weaves an examination of the anatomy of mental toughness into a gripping tale of athletic adventure. With its emotional and intellectual depth, Iron War is a captivating and thought-provoking portrait of the human will. --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.
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Renié par les principaux intéressés mais ça reste un bon bouquin, pour un récit sportif, s'entend !
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I feel sad that the athletes themselves are so upset with this work; I myself simply cannot imagine how I could feel defamed by this beautiful tale, although I am sympathetic as to why public exposure of some very personal information would at least make someone uncomfortable-- after all, we human beings have a disturbing history of judging each other with little compassion for each others' foibles and flaws. The author certainly delves into the psychology and life history of these two men in lavish detail, but this for me serves to greatly enrich the story and leaves me with a deeper appreciation for Allen and Scott and what they accomplished. As much as they both may have strove for perfection and invulnerability, both men are nevertheless thoroughly human, warts and all. This only makes their achievements more inspiring, and I have come away from this book thinking more of them, not less.
This book is obviously just one person's perspective on that fateful day nearly 22 years ago, and of the chain of events that lead up to it, who is himself an imperfect human being. But the book appears to be meticulously researched, with plenty of end notes for the interested reader to follow up on. Facts are one thing, though, and impressions are quite another. Not even the athletes themselves are necessarily the final arbiters of the truth of what makes them tick, or what happened on that day. All of us are always interpreting our experience, weaving imperfect stories out of the information we have available to us. The notion that Fitzgerald intended to defame, embarrass, or misrepresent Allen and Scott stretches credulity; to me the book is clearly the work of a person who loves the sport, loves his craft, and greatly admires these two remarkable athletes. Please read this book and judge for yourself!
There has been some grumbling about Fitzgerald's characterizations of the protagonists in Iron War, Allen and Scott. Those two have had their say in letters to triathlon magazine editors bemoaning Fitzgerald's characterizations of them. While I am an unabashed fan of both Allen and Scott, I say no-foul with Fitzgerald's account. Drama IS good characters and good characters are quarky and unusual. It's the stuff of great drama but in the case of Iron Wars, its also part of who triathletes are; eccentric, self absorbed and usually pretty thin-skinned. Allen and Scott are no different, Fitzgerald's treatment isn't particularly rough-shod, it is more forensic than this sport is used to- and in that Fitzgerald breaks new, and needed, ground. Good.
For the majority of athletes who come into this sport in the last decade Fitzgerald gives us our "Perfect Storm", our "Into Thin Air" with an account of a pivotal moment in triathlon history between iconic characters. It's riveting stuff- if it doesn't speak to you then perhaps you should think about taking up golf.
Agree or disagree with Fitzgerald's perspective this book belongs in the sport and is long overdue. It is part of our lore, our history. For those who take exception, write another account... I'll read that one too. But if nothing else were written about the 1989 Ironman Triathlon World Championship duel between Allen and Scott then "Iron War" would be a darn good reference and a great dramatic account.
Matt Fitzgerald is a very talented writer and worked very hard on this book. Hard core triathletes will be captivated by his blow by blow of the '89 Hawaii Ironman race, and numerous other ironmans detailed. His creative use of adjectives and descriptions of the surroundings makes the reading enjoyable. e.g. - when two young German cyclists pull away from Mark Allen, its: "...he was losing ground to the virile young meat machines chugging away ahead...".
Mark and Dave are rightfully sensitive about someone digging into the past and conducting armchair psychoanalysis about what makes them tick. Here's a passage from the book that indicates the folly of going where you shouldn't go:
"Behind how many great male athletes is a lousy father? Mark Allen. Lance Armstrong. Haile Gebrselassie. Michael Phelps [world's best triathlete, biker, runner, swimmer]....Coincidence? Not bloody likely." Coincidence that you cherry picked four athletes with some sort of father "story" to advance a theory? Not bloody likely.
Speaking of Lance, he has set us pretty straight on this issue. From his own mouth, he has informed the public that:
a) he had an irrelevant biological father followed by a succession of extremely poor father figures in his youth
b) - and this is the take-home point - that these characters had f-all to do with his success.
Interrupting a really interesting and deep philosophical thread in the conclusion, the author restates his oversimplified theory to account for the tremendous drive and will to suffer that these athletes exhibit as follows: Mark had father issues and Dave was born with the suffering gene. And consequently, "Dave and Mark might seem somewhat psychologically imbalanced"
This is tough one to swallow. Mentioning Dr. Allen's fatherly shortcomings as a driving factor in Mark's motivation can easily discredit Mark as well as his father. It just too difficult to succeed advancing psychological theories about subjects who did not contribute directly to the discussion. What about his positive contributions? After all, he watched Mark win in Kona, so on the Lance Armstrong scale things ain't that bad, eh? To say Dave was "born" with his work ethic and suffering-adept brain discredits his many practical efforts and life influences that helped shape him into a champion athlete. The author unwittingly undermines his theory when he relates Dave Scott's extreme fluctuations in motivation to train hard over the years, which doesn't make sense if he was endowed with a mysterious "born to work hard/suffer" gene. Also, if peak performance - whatever the complex motivations behind it - is psychologically imbalanced, then does "balanced" equate to mediocrity?
The book leans on a total of two scientists to delve into questionable objectionable threads about mental toughness being seemingly the sole reason for Mark and Dave's superiority over other athletes. One scientist proposes that, "chronic exertion of cognitive effort required to control your own emotions and deal with difficult family situations may induce neurocognitive adaptations that will translate into a competitive advantage during endurance competitions later in life." Yeah? So does hard training, the incentive of prize money and sponsor bonuses, relationships that are loving and nurturing, and cheering crowds.
This calls to mind another Lance quote, when I asked him how his having "been to hell and back" (with his cancer ordeal) made him a better cyclist. "Hey, everyone has been to hell and back, in one way or another." The race story and the back story is fantastic enough not to have to sprinkle it with childhood slights, relationship drama, or whatever. It analogous to the modern tri-geeks overthinking their training to the detriment of an intuitive approach. Props to the author for rightfully ripping on the tri geek overly-techie approach and calling attention to the value of Dave and Mark's old-school approaches; Dave raced sans heart watch or speedometer - everything was by feel.
The section about motivational intensity and exercise tolerance was well written, and it's a fascinating subject. Imagine, the brain is what limits our performance instead of muscles! This theory has been advanced before by Dr. Timothy Noakes (Lore of Running) and others. Unfortunately, license was taken here to distill some sound bites that could mislead the reader as to the source of superhuman athletic performance. E.g.:
"Fatigue in endurance exercise is always voluntary"
"The reason Mark and Dave were 3 miles ahead of the next competitor at the '89 Ironman is because they were mentally tougher"
"Mark and Dave thought of training differently than other athletes (as practice for improved tolerance to fatigue instead of just for strengthening the body to go faster)."
"Neither man has appreciably more physical talent that the competitors quarreling over third place far behind them [but they have] a clear advantage in mental stamina"
"Dave Scott's performance (in the final miles of Ironman '89, maintaining good pace after he was dropped and his form got loose) was a one in a billion exhibition of will in sports"
This is Baloney.
The reason Mark and Dave were 3 miles ahead of the next competitor was because they swam, cycled and ran faster than the others to that point. This resulted from a couple decades of endurance training, building to a period of exquisite preparation for that single day over the weeks and months leading up to it. Read Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code or Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers to get some insights about what "talent" is and how it's developed. The most talented athlete at the '89 Ironman was Mark Allen, because he won. The second most talented athlete in the field was Dave Scott. Period.
Mark and Dave may or may not have anything mentally on Mike Pigg, or Simon Whitfield, or Kobe Bryant, or Hicham El Gerrouj, or Blanka Vlasic, or many other athletes who reach elite ranking. Their superiority as triathletes - on the day in question and during other highlights in their careers - is far more broad and complex than that. It cannot be piece-mealed out of the complex whole for dramatic purposes. Doing so marginalizes the legacy of the athlete much in the same way we hail Michael Phelps size 14 feet and double jointed elbows, knees, and ankles, or Usain Bolt's 9'6" stride length as their primary success factors.
A triathlete who is simply mentally tough and impervious to pain and suffering will not even make it to the starting line, because he or she will lack the common sense to turn this faucet on and off with precision throughout the training process. Mark's career arc provides some insights here, as he had to learn to moderate his Grip of Death personality attribute after recurring injuries early in his career. He had to develop into a more complete athlete and human. Dave Scott has long been characterized as an athlete who "works the hardest" and "lacks natural ability or graceful technique". So to be the "Man" all you have to do is head out the door and pedal your brains out in the heat and wind for five hours every day, then get off and run a quick 12 at tempo? Then unlock the Davis community pool with your own key and do some solo stroking along the black line late at night? If it were this easy, we'd have pack sprints to the finish in 8 hours flat at Ironman each year. Fatigue is voluntary! You can pull an Red Bull and Top Ramen-fueled all-nighter to study for a final exam, ace the 3-hour final the next morning, then in the afternoon hammer 6 x 800m with the varsity team. Then party all night with the Kappa Kappa Gammas, and get a voluntary upper respiratory infection.
Consider this: Perhaps Mark and Dave became mentally tougher than everyone because they were physically stronger--particularly on the day of the big race? It sure helps to be in bad ass shape when you are ignoring screaming lungs and aching quads to surge at mile 24 and break the Man on the Kona coast. The true sage of multisport, Kenny Souza, was once asked the secret to his success at a public seminar: "long rides, man!". There was laughter all around, and then a brief pause while the audience waited for Kenny to elaborate...I think the profound significance of him NOT elaborating might have been lost on that audience.
I know that Kenny Souza didn't ponder whether his long rides were practicing "improved tolerance to fatigue" instead of "just for strengthening the body to go faster", because Twisted Sister was blaring too loud from his Walkman for him to ponder anything besides the Mrs. Field's cookies he was going to scarf at Boulder, CO's Pearl Street Mall upon conclusion of long ride.
This is not to discount the phenomenal mental toughness of Dave and Mark on that day, or throughout their careers. It's merely an attempt to put it into proper context instead of bringing up childhood slights like Dave getting benched on the varsity basketball team or Mark not getting due accolades from his dad for his age group swimming efforts.
The varied approaches that Dave and Mark took to the start line--Mark introducing the mystical element and Dave taking the blue-collar approach--have been so often discussed over the years that it gets a bit tiresome to revisit it decades later. This stuff is just window dressing and of less significance than the nuts and bolts of what made the "greatest endurance race ever": Two athletes who'd figured out how to experience a career peak at the same time and battle it out.
That's plenty of critique for one review, and I will repeat that serious triathletes will certainly enjoy the racing blow by blow and the background information conveyed about these legendary athletes. I again congratulate Fitzgerald for his extensive research and superior writing skills, which easily earns him 4 stars, or 3 stars, whatever, in comparison to the triathlon training crap that has flooded the marketplace in recent years. On that note, consider purchasing Mark Allen's Total Triathlon and Dave Scott's Triathlon Training - both a quarter-century old but some of the best books written about athlete mindset (predominating in Mark's book) and technical training (predominating in Dave's book).
If you a passionate triathlete, you will enjoy much of this book, but it may be useful to remember the concluding paragraph from Mark and Dave's open letter to the triathlon community about the book: "Our hope is that you, as intelligent and discerning athletes, will know and remember our battle in 1989 for its grit, and use that as inspiration to explore and break through your own limits to find greatness in both your racing and in your personal lives. And if you do decide to read Iron War be prepared to wade through fiction, fantasy and fabrication."
I found nothing negative in the portrayals of Dave Scott and Mark Allen. We are to understand that they have, like the rest of us, emotional baggage to deal with and that, unlike the rest of us, they also have surpassing physical gifts. How these factors play out is masterfully presented in a respectful and compassionate way. I sense that Fitzgerald wrote this book as much with his heart as with his mind. Iron War is a book that will stay with me for a long time. It belongs with all the classic recountings of immense desire coming smack up against immense obstacles. That's timeless stuff.