Munich, 1972. In the men’s 400-metre freestyle race, America’s Rick DeMont beats Australia’s Brad Cooper by a hundredth of a second. It’s the first electronic timing to deliver a win by such a close margin. The following day, DeMont is stripped of his medal in the world’s first swim doping disqualification. Three days later, as the Black September terrorist attack is unfolding on the other side of the Village, Brad is presented with gold in a ‘farce of firsts’. Neither Brad nor the Olympics will ever be the same.
This is a story about a global sporting competition — its glory, ignominy, and industry — but mostly it is the intimate account of the making of an athlete. In poetic, whip-smart prose, we journey from Brad’s childhood in 1960s Rockhampton, where his acid-tongued mother feeds a pining for her glamorous ex-pat days by holding Latin nights and smoking Craven ‘A’, via his parents’ vicious split, to an itinerant adolescence with his amnesiac, portent-driven father, where the only constant is the relentless search for training lanes as the pair pinball up and down Australia’s east coast, from boarding house to sleep-out. At fifteen, with the Munich Olympics looming, Brad teams up with the legendary and fearsome coach Don Talbot, aka Ming the Merciless; his career is about to step into overdrive with two world records and an Olympic gold medal, but it would take the rest of his life to work out what it all meant.
The Finest Gold is a rollicking coming-of-age and a compelling exploration of the limits and lengths of the human body.