Ahhh, the Olympics: the magical time of year when you’re allowed to chant “USA! USA! USA!” un-ironically with your face painted like Old Glory. But while this week marks the kick off of the 2016 Summer Olympics, this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro seem a little different, amidst controversy about the water in Rio, concerns about the Zika Virus, debates about nation-wide bans due to doping and anxiety over event security, these Games seem more than a little hectic and apprehensive.

Despite the (valid) trepidations many have over the Summer Olympic Games, fundamentally, the Olympics are a time to celebrate. The world is already pretty crazy, so it’s helpful to remember that people are, in fact, capable of coming together and competing with sportsmanship rather than divisiveness. The Olympics are here to give us hope, not depress us like every other story in the news. Oh, and one more thing: Olympians are pretty tough. They’ve been through a lot to get to Rio and compete for a Gold Medal.

So, in the spirit of encouraging optimism about the 2016 Summer Olympics, here are four inspiring stories from real-life American athletes who persevered to find Olympic glory:

Greater Than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption, David Boudia with Tim Ellsworth (Thomas Nelson, August 2, 2016)


David Boudia, a diver from Texas, won Olympic Gold in 2012 for the 10-meter platform dive. He was the first American to win Gold in diving since the 2000 Summer Olympics, and the first man to win since 1998. However, before achieving his dream, he had to struggle with crippling failure; in the 2008 Olympics, he didn’t even come close to winning a medal, let alone the Gold. This memoir tells his story –- one of persistence, determination and faith. This inspiring read will help you realize that when you put your mind to it, anything is possible.




Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games, Lopez Lomong with Mark Tabb (Thomas Nelson, August 2, 2016)


If you’re looking for a true inspiration, the buck stops at Olympic track and field athlete Lopez Lomong. Born in South Sudan, Lomong is one of the “Lost Boys” of the Second Sudanese Civil War. As a child, he literally had to run for his life to escape imprisonment and captivity in Sudan, making it to Kenya on foot. Spending years in a refugee camp near Nairobi, he finally made it to the USA in 2001, becoming both an NCAA champion and citizen in 2007. In 2008, he competed in the Summer Olympics and carried the flag for the USA in the opening ceremony. The American Dream doesn’t get realer than this remarkable story of resilience and true tenacity.



The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Daniel James Brown (Penguin Books, 2014)


Did you love Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (or even just the movie version)? If your answer is “yes,” then you’ll probably love The Boys in the Boat, too. It follows the 1936 US Olympic Rowing Team, which, despite its unlikely collection of working-class athletes coming straight out of the American Depression, won Olympic Gold. A stirring story of eight improbable heroes coming together to make their country proud, Brown creates this narrative from the real-life journals of the teammates. Plus, this book has also been turned into a great documentary!




Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics, Jeremy Schaap (Mariner Books Reprint, 2008)


The story of Jesse Owens, the American hero of the 1936 Olympics, can’t be told often enough. The son of an African-American sharecropper beat back Hitler and Nazi Germany’s fairytale of Aryan racial superiority by winning four Gold Medals at the German-hosted games. This modern history by Jeremy Schaap reveals the man behind what is very likely the most exhilarating Olympic performance in history, and the true story behind some of the greatest moments in sports.





Extra Credit:

Dancing with the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro and the Olympic Dream, Juliana Barbassa (Touchstone, June 21, 2016)


If you really want to learn more about Rio de Janeiro on the brink of the Olympics, there’s no better place to start than Juliana Barbassa’s recent work. Combining personal history and personal interviews, Barbassa paints a picture of Rio that’s as frightfully honest as it is colorful, showing readers the extremes of the city and its people.





The Games: A Global History of the Olympics, David Goldblatt (WW Norton, July 26, 2016)


Finally, this comprehensive history of the modern Olympic Games, starting in 1896 in Athens, explores the cultural, political and economic impacts the Games have had on the world since their reinvention. The history of the Olympics is in many ways the history of sport itself, and Goldblatt’s socially-minded perspective provides keen observations on both.