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Books A look at three champions who beat cancer

Jan. 10, 2000
Jan. 10, 2000

Table of Contents
Jan. 10, 2000

Books A look at three champions who beat cancer

LANCE ARMSTRONG'S COMEBACK FROM CANCER
By Samuel Abt
Van der Plas Publications, $16.95

This is an article from the Jan. 10, 2000 issue Original Layout

The old comeback trail is worn pretty thin these days, so
numerous are accounts of fallen heroes making their way back up
that crowded thoroughfare. Not to be too cynical about it, but
many of these confessionals from recovered dopers, boozers,
wife-beaters and what-have-yous resonate with "Hearts and
Flowers" insincerity.

That, mercifully, is not true of this and two other new books
describing comebacks not from more personal failings but from
cancer. The best of these is Abt's on cyclist Armstrong. Its
biggest virtue may be that it's not an as-told-to effort, so that
Abt, the author of eight books on cycling, is allowed to tell the
story in his own, largely cliche-free way. As anyone this side of
a millennium newborn must know by now, it's one helluva story.

Of the athletes who are the subjects of these three books,
Armstrong was the only one struck down in mid-career. He was also
the most seriously ill. His testicular cancer was diagnosed in
October 1996, when he was 25, and he underwent extensive surgery
and chemotherapy as the disease spread to his lungs, abdomen and
brain. That he was even able to ride a bike again, let alone
compete on one, is both something of a medical miracle and a
rousing tribute to his indomitable grit. As it was, he was on the
sidelines for nearly two years. Then--bring in the scriptwriter--he
won the greatest and most challenging of all cycling races, the
Tour de France.

Abt delivers a convincing portrait of a young athlete who, under
unimaginable stress, lost neither his confidence nor his sense of
humor. Asked after winning the Tour if he considered himself the
new Greg LeMond, Armstrong said, jokingly but perhaps seriously,
"No, I'm the first Lance."

LANDING IT: MY LIFE ON AND OFF THE ICE
By Scott Hamilton with Lorenzo Benet
Kensington Books, $25.95

Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic men's figure skating champion, found
out he had testicular cancer, the same disease that struck
Armstrong, in 1997 when he was approaching his 39th birthday.
Hospitals were hardly foreign to him because he had spent much of
his childhood in them fighting off a mysterious illness that
stunted his growth, but not his will to succeed. Too small for
most sports, Hamilton found his niche in skating, and he takes us
through the arduous training that led to Olympic gold. So there's
more here than just a cancer recovery story, and the book does
have its moments, particularly in the childhood chapters. At the
same time, the author's self-congratulatory pleasure in his own
pixie nature is a nagging irritant, and the pages abound with
such feel-good banalities as, "The world, I concluded, is a
wonderful place with incredible human beings."

THE LONG PROGRAM: SKATING TOWARD LIFE'S VICTORIES
By Peggy Fleming with Peter Kaminsky
Pocket Books, $24.95

Fleming, a latter-day but much nicer Sonja Henie, received her
breast-cancer diagnosis 30 years to the day after she won her
1968 figure skating gold medal at the Grenoble Olympics. When she
learned of her illness, she was 50, a housewife, mother,
television broadcaster and international celebrity. Like
Armstrong and Hamilton, she, too, seems to have recovered after
some tense times. She approaches eloquence when describing her
balletic skating style, but her book is weakened by her apparent
determination to portray herself as a plain Jane, lacking any
semblance of glamour. Fortunately, the photographs of an
uncommonly beautiful woman gainsay this patently absurd
premise.

COLOR PHOTO: VAN DER PLAS PUBLICATIONSCOLOR PHOTO: KENSINGTON BOOKSCOLOR PHOTO: POCKET BOOKS