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Three Kings: Race, Class, and the Barrier-Breaking Rivals Who Launched the Modern Olympic Age
Three Kings: Race, Class, and the Barrier-Breaking Rivals Who Launched the Modern Olympic Age
Three Kings: Race, Class, and the Barrier-Breaking Rivals Who Launched the Modern Olympic Age
Audiobook7 hours

Three Kings: Race, Class, and the Barrier-Breaking Rivals Who Launched the Modern Olympic Age

Written by Todd Balf

Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



About this audiobook

"Move over, Boys in the Boat. Here is a rollicking tale of three boys who didn’t need a boat to glide with grace and vigor across Olympic waters. Todd Balf's nuanced cross-cultural study of vintage swim racing is powered by three titanic characters who fiercely competed at the genesis moment when the quest for aquatic speed was coalescing as an international sport." —Hampton Sides, author of The Wide Wide Sea, Ghost Soldiers, and Blood and Thunder

For fans of The Boys in the Boat, and marking the 100th anniversary of the Paris Olympics, the never-before-told story of three athletes who defied the odds to usher in a golden age of sports.

Even today, it’s considered one of the most thrilling races in Olympic history. The 100-meter sprint final at the 1924 Paris Games, featuring three of the world’s fastest swimmers — American legends Duke Kahanamoku and Johnny Weissmuller and Japanese upstart Katsuo Takaishi — had the cultural impact of other milestone moments in Olympic history — Jesse Owens’ podiums in Berlin and John Carlos’s raised, black-gloved fist in Mexico City. Never before had an Olympic swimming final prominently featured athletes of different races, and never had it been broadcast live. Across the globe, fans held their breath.

In less than a minute, an Olympic record would be shattered, and the three men would be scrutinized like few athletes before them. For the millions worldwide for whom swimming was a complete unknown, the trio did something few could imagine: moving faster through water than many could on land. As sportsmen, they were god-like heroes, embodying the hopes of those who called them their own in the U.S. and abroad. They personified strength and speed and the glamor and innovation of the Roaring Twenties. But they also represented fraught assumptions about race and human performance. It was not only “East vs. West,” as newspapers in the 1920s described the competition with Japan. It was also brown versus white. Rich versus poor. New versus old. The race was about far more than swimming.

Each man was a trailblazer and a bona fide celebrity in an age when athletes typically weren’t famous. Kahanamoku was Hawaii’s first superstar, largely responsible for making the state the popular travel destination it is today. Weissmuller, a poor immigrant, put Chicago on the sports map and would make it big as Hollywood’s first Tarzan. Takaishi inspired Japan to compete on the world stage and helped turn its swimmers into Olympic powerhouses. He and Kahanamoku in particular shattered the myth of white superiority when it came to sports, putting the lie to the decade’s burgeoning eugenics movement.

Three Kings traces the careers and rivalries of these men and the epochal times they lived in. The 1920s were transformative not just socially but for sports as well. For the first time, athletes of color were given a fair (though still not equal) chance, and competition wasn’t limited to the wealthy and privileged. Our modern-day conception of athleticism and competition — especially as it relates to the Olympics — traces back to this era and athletes like Kahanamoku, Weissmuller, and Takaishi, whose hard-won victories paved the way for all who followed.

"Three Kings delivers everything I look for in a sports book—great writing, deep research, and a thrilling story that makes the reader cheer not just for the athletes but for humanity. An original and unforgettable work." —Jonathan Eig, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of King: A Life and Ali: A Life

"In this beautifully stitched and deeply human narrative, Todd Balf dives far beneath the surface of early Olympic glory and finds an entirely fresh story of celebrity, race, and nation-building in the fast lanes of a swimming pool." —Jonathan Alter, author of His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a

Editor's Note

World-changing race…

If you loved “The Boys in the Boat” and “Seabiscuit,” then this book about three legendary swimmers and their history-making showdown — the 100-meter men’s freestyle at the 1924 Olympics — is a must-read. Like all great sports stories, “Three Kings” is about much more than athletics. American icons Johnny Weissmuller and Duke Kahanamoku and Japan's Katsuo Takaishi changed longstanding presumptions about race and class, and helped to usher in the modern sports era.

Release dateJul 2, 2024

Todd Balf

Todd Balf is a former editor at Outside magazine whose writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, GQ, Runner’s World, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Last River, The Darkest Jungle, and Major.

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