Belgium suffered more than most countries during World War I, which ended in 1918, and the devastation was still clearly evident by 1920. But the book recounts how the determined Belgians came together to overcome the massive challenge of staging the Games, constructing a new Olympic stadium in less than a year. The heroes of Antwerp are featured: Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn, who staked his claim as the greatest distance runner of the age with three golds; the marksman Oscar Swahn of Sweden who became, and remains, the oldest gold medal winner at age 72; and the great swordsman Nedo Nadi of Italy, the only athlete to win gold in all three fencing disciplines at one Olympics.
The book then turns its attention to the French resort town of Chamonix and the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924. It tells the story of a charming 11-year-old figure skater from Sweden named Sonja Henie who, while finishing last in Chamonix, would go on to win three successive Olympic golds.
Juan Antonio Samaranch, former President of the International Olympic Committee, called The Olympic Century, “The most comprehensive history of the Olympic games ever published”.