Showdown at Shepherd’s Bush tells the story of the marathon race in the first London Olympics. What about that particular competition resonates with you today?
The marathon at the 1908 Olympics is the harbinger of modern sports as we know it. Everything we talk about in sports today—stadium deals, media and sports, performance enhancing drugs, athletes as celebrities—there wasn’t that stuff before. The stadium they built was the first modern Olympic stadium, and it was only the second-ever concrete and steel stadium built for sports.
Rivalry is also a big part of the story. At that time, the English ruled over Ireland, and you had the American team, which was comprised mostly of Irish American lads, coming over the ocean wanting to kick the heck out of the British—and they did. That rivalry sparked headlines on both sides of the Atlantic, and it sparked interest in the Olympics that hadn’t been there before.
Are you yourself a runner?
I have run in the past, but, being that I’m nearing 50, I confine that type of activity to walking the dog. I have supported many friends who have run marathons, however, and I think of it as an amazing event. Remember, when the marathon was invented for the 1896 Olympics, which was the first modern-day Olympics, the longest race to that point on the Olympic schedule was a mile, basically. The marathon is an absurd event. But that’s what makes it so great.
London is hosting the Olympics again this year. Which race are you most looking forward to watching?
The women’s marathon. One of the greatest female marathon runners ever, Paula Radcliffe, is English. You may have read last week about Andy Murray getting to the finals of Wimbledon and all of Britain being absolutely transfixed. If Paula Radcliffe has a chance to win the Olympic marathon on the streets of London, the city will go berserk. No British runner has won that Olympic race, so if she can do it—and it’s going to be tough for her to do it—oh my God, that would just be sensational.
Showdown at Shepherd’s Bush is available online and in bookstores now.