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Thursday, April 29, 2010
A personal search of Olympic glory

In 2006, a couple of editors at ESPN The Magazine were sitting around the office watching luge on TV. One of them naively commented, "How hard could that sport be?" A debate ensued. Some sided with the argument that all Olympic sports are insanely difficult. Others weren't so convinced. Then an editor said, "Let's find out." And that's when my life changed.

As Good as Gold

Two years before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, ESPN gave me a life-changing assignment: Try to qualify for the Olympic Games, in any sport possible -- in just two years -- and write about the journey along the way. At the time, I was an elite triathlete and a professional writer with an MFA in nonfiction. Just the right combination of sporty and nerdy that ESPN was looking for. I freelanced for ESPN for a number of years before the Olympic quest, but this assignment was much more than just another deadline. As an athlete with Olympic dreams of my own and lofty journalism goals, it was nothing short of miraculous. For the next two years, I chased the Olympic dream and wrote about it for the column "So You Wanna Be an Olympian?" The Olympic goal led me through nine sports, 10 countries, innumerable friendships, and hundreds of intense experiences that would continue well past the Olympics. Which I did not qualify for … yet.

Four years after the fateful luge debate, my book about the journey, "As Good As Gold" is hitting the bookshelves this month. Inside, my attempts at modern pentathlon, team handball, track cycling, road cycling, triathlon, open water swimming, lightweight rowing, racewalking, and luge, make up my epic journey. Some days I still can't believe the whole quest even took place, especially when I catch myself using phrases like "One time, when I was cycling up a volcano in El Salvador …" or "Hey, that cantaloupe is the size of a team handball!" Sometimes people ask me what the most interesting part of my Olympic quest was. That's like asking me whether I prefer oxygen or food. "All of it," I tell them, unable to favor one experience above another. Really, how could someone choose favorites when traveling the world, playing every sport known to man, and meeting the most incredible people?

Kathryn Bertine is the author of "As Good As Gold" and "All The Sundays Yet To Come." She originally chronicled her journey as a 14-part E-Ticket feature. For more information please visit