Picks and Pans Review: Gay Olympian: the Life and Death of Dr. Tom Waddell

UPDATED 07/22/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/22/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Tom Waddell and Dick Schaap

Twenty years ago, former decathlete Dr. Tom Waddell posed with his male lover in the pages of this magazine. Waddell had finished only sixth in the 1968 Olympics, but his "coming out" was big news back then and even helped pave the way for others. Wad-dell made one other lasting contribution to the homosexual community: He founded the Gay Games in 1982. Five years later he died of AIDS. Gay Olympian mixes entries from Wad-dell's journal (written for the daughter he and a lesbian friend conceived in 1983) with more conventional biography by ABC correspondent Dick Schaap. The book may have been meant as a tribute, but unsavory facts tax a reader's sympathy.

What are we supposed to make of a man who says one of his few regrets in life is not having had sex with a priest? Then there was the time he leaked a story to a newspaper columnist about AIDS prejudice in a San Francisco hospital, where he'd sought help for a broken toe. What readers of the subsequent newspaper column didn't know was that Waddell had injured himself trying to kick a dog. Those who appreciate his accomplishments will understand him better after reading this book, but they are unlikely to emerge with their admiration entirely intact. (Knopf, $23)

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