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The 2004 Summer Olympics are nearly upon us and the thrill of athletic
competition, where heroes are made, will soon capture our hearts.  But what
makes the Olympics so personal are the stories that you learn about certain
individual's lives.  These stories become inspiring as you learn about
commitment, dedication, hard work and a desire to become the best in the
world.  These underlying themes come true to life in two outstanding books
about two athletes vying to become the best.  They also had to overcome
great prejudices and, in one case, physical limitations, but both
persevered.

"Wilma Rudolph, Olympic Runner", by Jo Harper, is the biography about a
woman who won her first Olympic medal at the age of sixteen.  But before
winning in the Olympics, she had to overcome some very difficult obstacles
throughout her life.  She contracted polio at the age of six, which attacked
one of her legs.  Nevertheless, her mother was convinced that her little
daughter would walk again and took a fifty-mile bus ride to a different town
twice a week in order to receive the best medical help available.  After
Wilma wore a brace for several years, she worked hard to be able to walk
without a limp.  She also began noticing how different she was treated when
trying to get drinks or visit public restrooms.  This was the 1940's in the
deep South and African-Americans could't do many things in the same way that
their white counterparts could do.

Wilma discovered basketball in 7th grade.  Now her leg was strong and she
was excited to practice hours and hours shooting baskets.  She made the high
school basketball  team but never played her first few years.  She sat on
the bench.  But she chose not to let this discourage her.  Instead, she used
this time to work towards her advantage.  She watched and studied the
players and how they moved into positions to win games.  By the time she was
fifteen she was tall, with long limbs and very skinny at 89 pounds.  But
now, she was playing in all of the games and scoring the most points.

When the coach decided to start a track team in order to keep his players in
shape, she thought it sounded fun.  The first time she ran, she easily beat
all of her teammates.  She had a knack for running with her long strides and
her fast pace.  A coach from a university noticed her winning at one of her
many track meets.  He took her under his wing and that's how she had the
opportunity to try out for the Olympics at age sixteen.   She won a bronze
medal her first try, but it was her second Olympics that brought her gold.

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Simon and Schuster's series, "Childhoods of Famous Americans", depicts
famous Americans for kids ages 8 to 12 to read and enjoy.  This latest
edition, with pictures sprinkled throughout by Meryl Henderson, will give
children a real look into the life of someone who achieved the ultimate:
Olympic Gold.

The true test of a champion is perseverance, never giving up and confidence
in one's self and abilities.  "Major Taylor: Champion Cyclist", by Lesa
Cline-Ransome, is a picture book that will uplift and inspire.  Both the
author and her illustrator husband, James E. Ransome, first heard about this
remarkable athlete while watching a cycling segment during the Summer
Olympics a few years ago.  They were so amazed and impressed with this
gifted cyclist's life that they decided to write a book about him.  Marshall
Taylor was a unique sight in the cycling world back in 1891 because he was
African American.  Only people of privilege and wealth owned bikes back
then.  Marshall, however, was hired as a youngster, to live with a prominent
family and be a companion to their son.  At the age of 8, he was given a
bike and he fell in love with cycling.  He had a paper route at thirteen and
he could do the most amazing tricks and maneuvers on his bike.  When he
unwittingly joined in a big-time race at this age and won, he knew that he
found his profession.  The last race that he wins at the end of this
wonderfully illustrated book will have you singing the National Anthem along
with the crowd.  This book is great for all ages.  

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If you want a book that covers all of the sports and describes each event
you'll want "The Summer Olympics", by Clive Gifford.  This book is also
great for all ages