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The Gold Medal Secret

Series: Choose Your Own Adventure (1979-1998) #173
Author: Wilhelm, Doug
Illustrators: Mangiat, Jeff (cover)
La Padula, Tom (interior)
Release Date: July, 1996
ISBN: 0553567411 / 9780553567410
Length:119 pages
Number of Endings:7
User Summary: You're a member of the women's swim team at the 1996 Summer Olympics. As soon as you get there, a competitor hands you evidence that she and her teammates have been coerced into taking performance enhancers.
Fireguard's Thoughts: First off, I honestly did not realize that when I bought this along with a bunch of other CYOA books, it would be exactly twenty years later during the summer Olympics, but there you have it.

The intrigue of revealing corruption at the Olympic games was an interesting plot and the book was pretty well-written aside from a couple of hiccups like the awkward, semi-simplistic description of how steroids work partially mentioned in Waluigi's review. Although part of that awkwardness comes from how the reader's mostly slapped in the face with it, with a teammate deciding it bears mentioning since some of the female swimmers have suspiciously masculine builds, not after one of the accused swimmers gives you the drug test results when it would've been a smoother way to explain it for readers not in the know.

That's my biggest gripe, though, a clunky introduction. Once you're past that having to navigate a web of unscrupulous trainers and officials becomes a pretty entertaining read. Not a classic of the series by any means, but certainly better than I was worried after the abruptness of the steroid explanation.

More reviews by Fireguard

KenJenningsJeopardy74's Thoughts:
"Performance-enhancing drugs are a huge threat to sports and to the Olympics. The pressure to win is so intense on these kids and their coaches--but it's incredibly dangerous to fill developing bodies and brains with artificial hormones. We don't really know what the longterm effects may be."

--Ellie Steinhurst, The Gold Medal Secret, P. 36

The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta took place twenty years before I read this book as part of my celebration for the 2016 Olympiad in Brazil's city of Rio de Janeiro. The Gold Medal Secret makes no effort to be generic enough to be set at any Olympic Games, and its July 1996 release indicates why: the book is a tie-in product for the Atlanta games through and through, inextricable from the specific Olympiad it was written to commemorate. U. S. Olympian Betsy Mitchell sat down with author Doug Wilhelm for this book to lend her insider's perspective on the games, and it shows in the authenticity of the experience on the page. The glamor and legacy of Olympic immortality aren't all this story is about, however. The Gold Medal Secret squarely confronts concerns about athletes illegally using steroids and other artificial hormones, exposing the decisive edge such means provide. Like many stars debuting in the Atlanta games, you are a wide-eyed teen in The Gold Medal Secret who has practiced for years and wants to do your best, but your expectation of a fair competitive environment is upended when you first see the members of the Dzakhistan female swimming team. They're absurdly big and sculpted, with unnaturally deep voices your American teammates say are an obvious tell they're using PEDs. Etana Elbakh, the fifteen-year-old Dzakhi swimmer you'll be up against in your event, the four hundred meter freestyle, is as suspiciously bulky as any of them. When you greet her with a few friendly words in the locker room, Etana collapses into an emotionally volatile state, then shoves an envelope full of papers written in the Dzakhi language into your hands. You can't read Dzakhi, but translators abound in the Olympic complex, so you bring the envelope to one of them to learn what Etana is trying to tell you. The translator confirms your worst suspicions: the contents of the envelope are a paper trail of PED abuse by the Dzakhistan swim team, including numerous failed drug tests in the weeks prior to the Olympics. If this information sees the light of day it could throw the swimming portion of the games into chaos, but you'd be virtually assured of a clean race for your shot at Olympic gold. Should you go to the press with the secret Etana has entrusted to you?

If you decide to blow the lid off the Dzakhi coverup, you'll face several well-meaning individuals who want to keep it quiet. Even U. S. Olympic officials aren't sure about going public with the information, since your only source is a distraught Dzakhi teen who handed you the papers without proof that they're genuine. You could go to the press yourself--news outlets worldwide would clamor for an exclusive scoop on a story like this--but any trustworthy journalist will want more evidence, and you may have to take precious time out of your race preparation to dig it up yourself. The media explodes with the story when you reveal the papers, and that isn't good for your focus as you ready to live the Olympic dream. PEDs or none, Etana and your other opponents will be hard to defeat if you're not zeroed in on achieving a personal record time to give yourself a chance to top the medal stand, and this steroids controversy is the last thing you need. Even worse, if the Dzakhis get wind that Etana clued you in on their deception and that you're considering blowing the whistle on their illegal activity, they may employ desperate tactics to keep you from speaking up. Your life and the lives of your teammates could be in jeopardy if the Dzakhis believe you must be quieted.

If you decline to make Etana's papers public in the interest of focusing on your race, the drama won't be much less intense, though you might get by without media scrutiny. The Dzakhi coach will be all over Etana when he realizes she's slipped you the incriminating envelope, and within hours she's at your door in the Olympic Village, begging you to return the papers. Etana is clearly distressed, unable to control her emotions as she sets to take the world stage for her country under immense pressure to win. You want to help her, but there's a limit to what you can do without compromising your own preparation for this competition you've trained for most of your life. Whether you surrender the papers to Etana or not, you're caught in an international web of lies as the biggest moment of your life sneaks up so rapidly you scarcely believe it when you're suddenly standing under the bright lights of primetime television, ready to take the plunge for the competition that may define your career. Once you're in the pool there's no second-guessing, just eight girls pushing your bodies for every scrap of speed you have in reserve, regardless of what drugs are or aren't in your system. You can only hope you've done the right thing with the complex ethical choices you've encountered since arriving in Atlanta, and that you'll swim your best when it counts. Is the consummate joy and satisfaction of an Olympic gold medal in your future, or are you destined for a lower position on the podium? Might you be left out of the top three spots or not even qualify for the finals, either because you perform poorly in your preliminary heat or show up too late to swim because of funny business perpetrated by the Dzakhis? The decisions you make will determine all of that, but be careful: representing your country in the Olympics may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Use it wisely.

Unlike most Choose Your Own Adventure books, The Gold Medal Secret clearly delineates your gender and age: you're a girl, and a junior in high school. Perhaps having you be female makes the Dzakhi team's PED use more obvious, their size and masculine voices giving them away. You're put in some tough spots during the story, forced to make choices with no clearcut right answer, which is how I expect it would be if you were in this situation. The book takes a strong stance against PED cheating, and some of its most eloquent sentiments come from you, notably your speech to the press on page one hundred thirteen. "It's not just one bad doctor or coach who's behind it all...It's all of you. It's all the stuff about how we have to win the gold medal or be a loser. That's not what sports are about. Sports are about working to achieve the best you can--period. Until we figure out how to celebrate that on network television, we're going to have more cheating and more good athletes being used up and thrown away." Those are pretty powerful words, both an indictment of the status quo and a hopeful challenge to do better. How can we act surprised that athletes resort to illegal methods of physical enhancement when we regard their natural best as not good enough? PED abuse is the result of a society obsessed with winning at all costs. The Gold Medal Secret has fewer endings than earlier Choose Your Own Adventure entries--seven endings, to be exact--and you earn the gold medal in only one, but give it a go and see if you can emerge from this daunting scenario to fulfill your childhood dream of Olympic glory. I'd rank The Gold Medal Secret at least in the upper half of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. You'll have fun with it.

More reviews by KenJenningsJeopardy74

Waluigi Freak 99's Thoughts: I was a bit surprised by the fact that the reader is given a gender in this book, as the Choose Your Own Adventure series, in its writing, at least, usually tends to be gender-neutral. I guess this seems like a way to compensate for the martial arts books. There was a good premise here, although it could be explained a bit better. (There certainly must be a better way to describe steroids than "pills that turn you into a boy"). The fairly few endings and other flaws are compensated by the well-written plot threads, resulting in an average entry for the series.

More reviews by Waluigi Freak 99

Special Thanks:Thanks to Fireguard for the plot summary.
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