Books of Olympic proportion Women were an afterthought to the modern Olympic Games that began in 1896. Almost one-third of the new century had elapsed before women were allowed to participate in track and field events.

In the years since, women have come into their own. Today Olympic hopefuls such as Marion Jones, the most recent of the athletic divas-in-waiting, achieve superstar status before they ever compete in the Games.

In a recent biography, See How She Runs (Algonquin, $21.95, ISBN 1565122674), author Ron Rapoport explains why the basketball star turned track star has received so much attention, both for her private life and her dazzling athletic skills. In another biography of the sprinting sensation, written for children, Marion Jones (Pocket, $4.99, ISBN 074341876X), experienced sports writer Bill Gutman offers a brief, but inspiring, profile of "The Fastest Woman in the World." These books are just two of many published in time for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

In The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics: Sydney 2000 Edition (Overlook, $23.95, ISBN 1585670464) Olympics historian David Wallechinsky provides readers with every statistic they could ever possibly want. The narrative texts that accompany the stats offer examples of the social concerns that often plagued the games in years past, especially involving race and gender. Did you know that when the first woman's track contestants ran out onto the field in 1928, many of them hugged and kissed each other, sending the predominantly male audience into near hysterics? Or did you know that the first female winner of the 100-meter event, 16-year-old Elizabeth Robinson of Riverdale, Illinois, was "discovered" while running for a train? Another comprehensive guide is The Olympic Games (DK, $29.95, ISBN 0789459752). It covers the games from their 1896 debut in Athens to the events scheduled this year. The color photographs are several notches above the newspaper quality images we are accustomed to seeing and they add an increased element of humanity to the events. Especially useful are the charts and statistics that take up the final one-third of the book.

Also noteworthy is The Olympic Marathon (Human Kinetics, $27.95, ISBN 0880119691) in which authors David Martin and Roger Gynn offer a definitive guide to this popular event.

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