Gay Olympian: The Life and Death of Dr. Tom Waddell

Tom Waddell, Author, Dick Schaap, With, Greg Louganis, Introduction by Alfred A. Knopf $23 (240p) ISBN 978-0-394-57223-9
Tom Flubacher Waddell, New Jersey-born decathlete in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and founder of the Gay Games, died of AIDS in San Francisco in 1987 at the age of 49, several months after Schaap had started work on this biography. Toward the end of it, by way of explaining why he took on the project, Schaap, sportswriter and author of 29 books, writes that he has always looked for stories that transcend sport, that provoke laughter or tears, surprise or anger. And Waddell's story, the life of a world-class athlete, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases, a gay activist and, with his lesbian partner, a father, is probably suitably provocative. But Schaap seems to have been singularly unprovoked during the nine years he worked on this book, and he leaves the reader squinting between the lines to find out what made Waddell extraordinary. We are given only disorganized scraps of evidence. Waddell's later history is told in his own words, in the form of letters, which he began composing hours after her conception, to his daughter Jessica, who was four years old at the time of his death; the earlier history is filled in by Schaap. But most of the best writing is found at the end of the book, in quotes from interviewees and excerpts from letters written by Waddell's admirers. The narrative as a whole suffers from an apparent lack of editing and from ineffective, haphazard contextualizing. There is much allusiveness, an abundance of non sequiturs and precious little portraiture. Photos. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/29/1996
Release date: 05/01/1996
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