As a kid, I loved R.R. Knudson's '70s and '80s series of books about a girl athlete, Zanbanger, Zanballer, and Zanboomer. (Until just now when my girlfriend pointed it out, I never thought there was anything funny about the titles.) Recently I discovered there was another book in the series--this one--so I had to read it.
It's a little different from the other ones. In Zanballer, Zan starts a girl's football team at her high school, in Zanbanger she plays on the boy's basketball team, and in Zanboomer she runs cross country. But in this one she becomes an Olympic marathon runner! So I had a tiny credibility problem and I have to say that I prefer the high school milieu. But I guess RR Knudson was really excited that women were racing in the Olympic marathon for the first time in 1984, and some of the characters in the book turn out to be real runners, like Joan Benoit.
It was great to see all my favorite characters and once again have Zan perform amazing athletic feats. In the previous books, the principal and the girls' phys ed teacher and the head cheerleader all hated her and tried to thwart her and tell her that girls can't do sports properly, but in this book everyone has grown to love Zan and they all believe in her. In fact, Zan's problem is really that they idolize her too much.
I enjoyed reading this one, but if this is your first introduction to the Zan Hagen world, I would definitely start with one of the other three, or Rinehart Lifts, which is about her nerdy boy sidekick/best friend Rinehart doing weight training.
So Zan does make it to the Olympics. During her training, she's been ultra-competitive against the other athletes and doesn't want to socialize with them at all. She's especially worried about girls taking steroids because they'll have beards. But in the Olympic Village she meets Song Mei from China, her biggest competitor, who we've been hearing about all through the book in these cringe-inducing Chinese jokes. Zan really really really likes Song Mei (even though Song Mei talks in strange flowery sentences.) During the race, instead of focusing on grinding everyone into the dust like she planned to, Zan turns back to help Song Mei who has fallen and they run hand in hand across the finish line, even though they will both be disqualified from the medals because you can't help anyone in a marathon. As a coded lesbian sub-text, it really works and it's very poignant that everyone will disapprove of Zan for taking another girl's hand and running with her. But as a regular ending to a sports book, it's kind of confusing and weird.
Theme song for this book: "You Better Run" by Pat Benatar