With the Olympics finally kicking off, you may be looking for some inspirational or informational reading as you count down toward your favorite event. Whether you're into gymnastics, triathlon, running, or any other sport, we've rounded up books that bring the games to life — from memoirs by Olympians to how-to books in case you're hoping to hit some athletic goals of your own.
If you just don't get how athletes push through the tough stuff …
How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald
This is a great read if you want self-help and advice mixed with narratives of human achievement in sport. Fitzgerald looks at stories of athletes from different endurance sports and tries to answer the question: "How the heck can they push that hard?"
If you've ever watched a marathon and seen the looks of pain on the finishers' faces, or watched a gymnast twist an ankle, but grit her way through a routine anyway, this book helps you understand how they do it. Fitzgerald isn't writing a dry psychology book, he's telling a dozen stories of "mind over muscle" in this extremely fun to read book.
If you want to try a race, but you're scared …
The Brave Athlete by Simon Marshall, PhD, and Lesley Paterson
Spend enough time watching the Olympics on TV and a thought starts to form: "Maybe I should try a race." Maybe you're hoping to do a half-marathon or a 10K, or maybe you're eyeing a triathlon or a bike race. Heck, maybe you're considering Olympic weightlifting! Whatever the case, The Brave Athlete can help.
Written by a sports psychologist and his world championship-winning triathlete wife, this book is a funny and wildly informative look at the inner workings of the athlete's brain. First order of business: Understanding that no matter where you are on your athletic journey, even if you're just standing up from the couch, you are an athlete, and you should treat yourself like one.
If you've been waiting for Simone …
Courage to Soar by Simone Biles, Michelle Burford, and Mary Lou Retton
Is there an Olympic event as discussed as gymnastics? Is there an Olympian as celebrated as gymnast Simone Biles? The record-setting American gymnast's memoir of her beginnings in the sport is sure to get you even more excited to watch Biles go for more gold medals at this year's Games. From her early days growing up in the foster care system to a field trip that changed her life, Biles' story inspires any reader to push through obstacles to reach your dreams.
If you love a good memoir …
Breaking the Surface by Greg Louganis and Eric Marcus
A new edition of the 1995 New York Times bestseller, this autobiography of diver Louganis shares his story. It's not a light-hearted look at the Olympics, though. Breaking the Surface is a heart-wrenching retelling of growing up struggling with dyslexia as well as racial prejudice. It also tells the story of how he spent most of his life hiding his sexuality.
A gold medalist at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, he struggled behind the scenes, testing positive for HIV shortly before the 1988 Games.
If you caught the running bug …
Running Rewired by Jay Dicharry
After watching the amazing Olympic runners in each race from the 100-meter sprint to the marathon, it’s no surprise we lace up our sneakers and start running again. But with a huge percentage of runners getting injured every year, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Enter Dicharry's Running Rewired, a book that teaches you how to run smarter and stay injury-free.
Dicharry is a leading expert on running biomechanics, physical therapy, and neuromuscular connections. He's compiled this book and packed it with conditioning exercises, self-tests to check your mobility and stability, and workouts to help you hit your goals.
If you're intrigued by the cycling events …
Just Ride by Grant Petersen
Just Ride is one of the most pithy, practical books on cycling out there. Founder and owner of Rivendell Bicycle Works, Petersen wants to demystify riding a bike to bring it back to the simplicity and fun of riding as a kid. This book touches on the basics of riding and training, from mileage to proper fueling. It also gets into the tech-ier aspects: The must-do’s of bike maintenance, and the gear you need for smoother riding. Rather than spending time scouring the internet for hundreds of articles to answer your questions, start with this book and you'll be way ahead of the pack.
If you love swimming …
Swim Speed Secrets by Sheila Taormina
Learn how to swim — or how to swim faster — with Taormina, a four-time Olympian, gold medalist, and triathlon world champion. This is one of the best books on swimming you can find, providing tips on technique, training, and the simple ways to pick up more speed without working harder. Taormina's secret lies in her swim stroke: Focus on improving your stroke's power, and you'll immediately pick up speed.
If you want some behind the scenes business …
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
The Nike story may not be about the Olympics, but if you're interested in pretty much any sport, this memoir from Nike founder Phil Knight is an eye-opening read about how Nike emerged as the giant it is now. In many ways, Knight's story could be written about an athlete: He suffers setbacks as well as triumphs in his quest to build the brand. It's also worth noting that Shoe Dog even made the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Longlist in 2016.
If you want the dirt on sport …
Spitting in the Soup by Mark Johnson
Olympic coverage isn't all podium finishes and record-breaking feats; there are also plenty of scandals. In Spitting in the Soup, sports journalist Mark Johnson deep dives into the history of doping. While you might expect this book to be an angry rant about athletes who dope, Johnson takes a nuanced approach, looking at the history of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. He explores the gray area: The idea doping isn't just about the athletes, it's about the system as a whole, from nations to federations to sponsors to coaches and even the media. Can doping ever actually be stopped? Maybe. Johnson explains what it would take.
If you love history...
Olympic Pride, American Prejudice by Deborah Riley Draper, Blair Underwood, and Travis Thrasher
Learn about some lesser-known feats of greatness in Olympic history in Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, which chronicles the story of African American athletes who challenged Jim Crow laws in the U.S., and then Nazi Germany on the world stage, to compete in the 1936 Games in Berlin.
In the 1930s, the U.S. was still largely segregated, and African American athletes faced two huge hurdles to compete in the Olympics. First, American prejudices and racial injustice at home, and second the rising Aryan superiority sweeping Germany in the years before World War II. This book follows five athletes — Tidye Pickett, Louise Stokes, Mack Robinson (yes, the older brother of Jackie Robinson), Ralph Metcalfe, and eventual gold medalist Archie Williams.
If you love a heartwarming story …
Gold in the Water by P. H. Mullen Jr.
Most memoirs or biographies focus on one man or woman from a team, but this book gives a wide look at the relationships, triumphs and setbacks that befall a team in an Olympic season. In 2000, a ragtag group of swimmers from California made their Olympic dreams come true. Mullen tells the story of friendships being pushed to their limits as athletes vied for Olympic spots, of a young man desperate to follow in his father’s Olympic footsteps, and a coach on a quest of his own.
For more motivating reading recommendations on grit and resilience, check out the Embracing Grit to Become Your Best Self: Olympics Edition list from our Scribd editors.