Olympic Historian Sleuths for Missing Facts

HOW does an Olympic historian make a name for himself? By digging for details of every Olympic competition and sharing this knowledge in a highly readable and useful book.

David Wallechinsky has done just this with "The Complete Book of the Olympics" (Little, Brown, $14.95 paper, $29.95 cloth). The 1992 revised edition received such glowing reviews that NBC not only bought the book, it hired Mr. Wallechinsky as a researcher and answer man for the summer Games.

The first edition of his history, written in 1984, took 2 1/2 years to complete, including one 11-month stretch with no days off. To keep himself informed, Wallechinsky subscribes to more than 25 international publications during the Olympic period. The California native is living in southern France this year in order to be close to the Winter (Albertville, France) and summer Games.

Wallechinsky is part of an informal network of Olympic historians around the world who try to ferret out missing facts from early Games, specifically those of 1896, 1900, 1904, and 1920.

How is this research pursued? "In a combination of ways," he says in a phone interview.

"By translating Greek newspapers, finding somebody whose obscure expertise was cycling in the year 1904, things like that. This is definitely an obsession."

Oddly, gaps even show up in some of the more modern history. For example, discovering the first names of athletes in the 1948 London Olympics has proved challenging: Following British tradition, only first initials were recorded.

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