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This ``autobiographical'' novel about Jack Lovelock, New Zealand's first Olympic gold-medal winner, is almost dull until halfway through. Rhodes Scholar and Oxford medical student Lovelock (1910-1949) only becomes interesting when he visits Berlin for the 1936 Olympicsif by ``interesting'' one means less than perfect, neurotic at the least, confused about his sexual identity and, finally, awakened to politics. Lovelock retired from running almost immediately after winning the 1500-meter race against the greatest milers of his time. The remaining events of his lifeWorld War II on the home front; his long, successful wooing by an American heiress; the physical suffering caused by a riding accident (and exacerbated by his own emotional problems); his last years in America; and his mysterious death, at 39, under a New York subway trainhave none of the glamour of his golden years. But, in this novel, Lovelock becomes real, an unhappy and haunted man. Novelist (Joy, The Glass Zoo) and nonfiction (Fire Under the Ashes) author McNeish could have profitably cut much of the early part of the book, but patient readers will be rewarded by this unlikely ``sports novel.'' (June)

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