Every four years, the Olympic Games bring together an international community of athletes to compete in an inspiring two weeks of games. This year’s Winter Games will be held in Sochi, Russia. In honor of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, we asked five former Olympians—including gold medalist alpine skier Debbie Armstrong and bronze medalist mogul skier Nelson Carmichael—which books inspired them to compete at their best. While their answers ranged from fiction to golf memoirs, a common thread unites them: love of sports, and the drive to achieve excellence.
Chris Puckett, an alpine skier who competed in the 1992 Winter Olympics, says he recommends Mark Frost’s The Greatest Game Ever Played. Frost’s biography details the life of Francis Ouimet, the first amateur golfer to ever win the U.S. Open. “It is a golf book, but it is an amazing book on goals, hard work, sportsmanship, and competition,” Puckett says. “It is very applicable to all individual sports, like skiing. I think every athlete can relate to the struggles each golfer was going through in the book.”
Caroline Lalive, an alpine skier who competed in both the 1998 Winter Olympics and the 2002 Games, says she really enjoys Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. The novella follows the plight of a seagull who strives to excel at flying and, in doing so, learns the power of nonconformity and pursuing what you love. “It isn’t specific to winter,” Lalive says, “but [it’s] one of my favorite inspirational stories, which I often read as an athlete.”
A Bird of Passage by Otto Lang
Debbie Armstrong, an alpine skier who won the gold medal in Sarajevo in 1984 and competed again in 1988, is a fan of A Bird of Passage by Otto Lang, whom she calls a “legend.” Lang is considered by many to have popularized skiing in the United States; he simultaneously built a successful career as a Hollywood producer. “What a great glimpse into a life and into a romantic time of skiing,” Armstrong says.
Erin Simmons Nemec, who competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics in snowboard cross, says that since becoming a mother, she’s started looking for stories to read to her son. She’s found that in this picture book by Julie Mammano: “[It’s] a funny, silly story about rhinoceroses who snowboard, and it is one of the first little books I read to my baby boy after I had been competing.”
Nelson Carmichael, a mogul skier who took the bronze medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics, says, “My favorite sports book is Wayne Gretzky’s autobiography. I was a young hockey player who didn’t start competitive skiing until high school, and I always missed the game. Gretzky’s accomplishments are truly remarkable, and I grew up admiring his humility and character even more than his long-standing hockey records.”