5 sports biographies you must read

Sports biographies are some of the most successfully sold books and they are bound to inspire you to push yourself!

by Nikhil Sreekandan

Professional athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo and Roger Federer see a yearly turnaround in figures that one can only dream of ever earning in a lifetime, but the hours of dedication and perseverance that is required to establish oneself at the very top of their individual sport is equally insurmountable.

They are true idols, the finest among us, and an opportunity to discover more about their lives, their principles and values, is not to be passed upon.

From baseball to gymnastics, this list of biographies and autobiographies of some of the world’s greatest sports figures make for compulsory reading, a sports fan or otherwise.

1. Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero by  David Maraniss

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Killed in a plane crash on the New Year’s Eve of 1972 as he attempted to deliver food and medicine to an earthquake stricken Nicaragua, Roberto Clemente is one of the true heroes of American baseball. He was the first Latin American and  Carribean player to have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The Puerto Rican professional is known to have played the game as well as or better than most of his contemporaries, having won the Golden Glove for 12 consecutive seasons from 1961 – 1972. The only reason he didn’t enjoy the same amount of stardom and fame was probably down to the fact that he played for the underachieving Pittsburgh Pirates.

Written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning David Maraniss, this moving account of Clemente’s life and legacy captures the myth and the real man.

You can buy the book here.

2. Letters to a Young Gymnast by Nadia Comaneci

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The name Nadia Comaneci is synonymous with the sport of gymnastics. The young Romanian girl became the first gymnast in history to be awarded a perfect score of 10.0. Nadia ushered in a new era for women’s sports when she attained the impossible at the young age of 14 in the 1976 Olympics.

In the Letters to a Young Gymnast, Nadia writes as if she’s replying to a pen pal’s questions about her life, narrating interesting and dramatic anecdotes from the past, and describing the process of how she set out to be a world-beater from such a young age. The book also reveals her relationship with the famous coach Bela Karolyi, giving an interesting insight into the rarely understood dynamic between a coach and an athlete.

From advice on dealing with success to the importance of a strong mental spirit, Nadia’s views on gymnastics and life are inspiring and eye-opening.

You can buy the book here.

3. Open by Andre Agassi

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From one of the most gifted men to ever step onto a tennis court, Open is dubbed to be one of the most honest and haunting autobiographies ever written in sporting history.

Andre Agassi, the former World No. 1 who is credited for having single-handedly revived the popularity of tennis in the 1990s, is at the top of his game as he narrates the story of his life with wit, intelligence and the determination to tell it as truthfully as he can.

Though he reminisces every pivotal match with near-photography memory, by no means is Open a blow-by-blow account of tennis matches. Instead, it is the diary of a confused, ever-evolving man who struggles with his inability to accept defeat and the love-hate relationship he has with the game which he happens to be exceptional at.

Much more than a simple story of a famous sports athlete, Open is a sincere lesson on life, which stresses the importance of facing both highs and lows, and being focused and ready to hit back harder than ever – irrespective of a win or a loss.

You can buy the book here.

4. A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng

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Following a serious bout of depression in 2009, Robert Enke stepped in front of a passing train and killed himself. But, to let that event alone define the former German national goalkeeper would be a genuine shame. The biography by his close friend and award-winning writer Ronald Reng sets out to define the young sportsman’s life before the tragedy.

The public eye often tends to look past the human side of professional athletes, what Robert Enke’s story does is change the way sporting individuals are perceived in our world. The amount of stress and pressure that they face on a daily basis is a situation not everyone is capable of withstanding.

More importantly, A Life Too Short is a brilliant understated piece of work that talks about depression with the right restraint and sensitivity whilst maintaining the dignity of the subject under scrutiny.

You can buy the book here.

5. Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser

Widely regarded as one of the most celebrated sports figures of the 20th century, Muhammad Ali aka Cassius Clay was a polarising figure both inside and outside the boxing ring. Thomas Hauser’s 1991 biography of Muhammad Ali tells his story from the very beginning.

From his very humble upbringing in Kentucky, winning the Light Heavyweight Olympic Gold medal at the age of eighteen and later claiming the World Heavyweight crown from Sonny Liston to his multiple marriages, his stubbornness, and his refusal to retire.

This unique compilation of different people’s accounts of Ali – from over 200 of Ali’s family members, opponents, friends and others who have known him – emerges the story of the real man, one who was extremely generous and deeply religious and ultimately an extraordinary human being.

You can buy the book here.

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