Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics by John Feinstein is a young adult novel set at the London Olympics and the run-up to them. The main character, Susan Carol Anderson, is a competitive swimmer. She learns firsthand, as she prepares for the competition, that it’s easy for a competitor to become a commodity. Her friend Stevie is reporting on the Olympics, and his experience as a writer and a journalist is explored along with the experiences of the athletes.
Read the book aloud or assign chapters to students for independent reading. Then follow up with cross-curricular activities:
- Susan Carol loves to swim and has enjoyed swimming competitively for her high school. As an Olympic athlete, she suddenly has a lot more options, including the potential to earn a lot of money. How might this affect her life? Quote from Chapter 3: “Just the thought of it staggered Susan Carol. She couldn’t begin to think of how to spend that money… All the things she’d imagined for her life were suddenly chaning — it was hard to keep up.”
- As she becomes more well known, there are a lot suggestions that Susan Carol is popular because of her looks, not her swimming ability. How does she feel about this? Is this a problem? Issues of both sexuality and sexism come up in the book. In Chapter 9, Stevie becomes angry about “how they planned to market Susan Carol as America’s newest sweetheart/sex symbol.” Does this kind of marketing belittle an athlete?
- While her father originally stands firm on these issues (quote from chapter 3: “‘You and I had an agreement,J.P.,’ he said firmly. “We promote her as an athlete.'”) he later gives in, even agreeing to fire the coach Susan Carol has worked with all her life, over her objections. Should parents make these decisions, or should young people make them? Do good people get swayed by money and pressure to do things they know are wrong?
- In Chapters 16 and 17, there is a lot of discussion of the rules of the Olympic Village, where athletes stay, and the kind of access other people get to the athletes. Should athletes be focused on the competition to the exclusion of everything else, or should they be available for reporters — or able to spend time having fun? Are the rules protecting the athletes or limiting them?
- At the end of the book, after several chapters of mounting feelings that something might be wrong, it becomes clear that rules are being broken. Did the students see it coming? Can they identify the trail of clues leading to the outcome?
This book is full of numbers, from times and speed to the number of competitors and their chances of winning. Divide into groups and give each group a chapter of the book to work with. Have students make word problems using the data in the book, and challenge other teams to find the answers. Give the winning team Olympic-style medals.
Michael Phelps is a character in the book. In real life, Phelps has received the largest number of Olympic medals any athlete has ever received. Have students research Phelps and prepare a display board, PowerPoint, or class book about this exceptional athlete.
Find more ideas in our Olympics Classroom Theme.