Lit Hits: After the Titanic sank, a survivor rose—and to Olympic glory

by: Jonathan Scott | August 14, 2012

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Until Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka won the mixed-doubles gold medal at these London Games, that division of tennis competition hadn't appeared at the Olympics since 1924. That year, the one who claimed the prize was actually a survivor of the Titanic disaster at sea in 1912. Little did Dick Williams know that he would board that cursed ship, meet his new ally and future tennis foe Karl Behr, and be destined not just to survive but to flat-out thrive.

Indeed, Williams found himself powerless at sea, but when it came to the land, when it came to the dimensions of a solitary tennis court on any given day, he found himself entirely unencumbered, even capable of amazing things. Just two short years after the Titanic sank, Williams and Behr faced off in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Nationals, a precursor to the beloved U.S. Open event stateside since then.

Author Lindsay Gibbs, a Brooklyn, New York–based writer and film-school graduate, takes acknowledged liberties with facts to fill in the holes in a story that is based entirely on a huge, gaping hole, that in the side of a behemoth cruise ship. Gibbs's story has been attacked to date by family members of the two true-life lead characters, but others themselves served as guides and sources for the material. As always in life and in nonfiction literature, two sides exist to any one book. That said, it's no small feat to make this a believable tale, in light of sartorial and environmental details unique to the eras involved, among other mitigating factors and variables. In this game attempt, the author succeeds with aplomb.

Gibbs's writing is crisp and spry, rolling along like the tides that powered beneath that so-mighty Titanic cruiser. Her prose is alternately grave and jouncy, when it needs to be, as it needs to be. In that she should be well pleased with this first outing as an author. As for the creators of such monstrous machines as the Titanic and its ill-fated sisterhood, the proverb says it best: "Pride comes before a fall."

That's not just a warning for ambitious architects and leaders. That's a lesson that a good many tennis pros should learn as well.

Passing Shots:
Titanic: The Tennis Story, by Lindsay Gibbs

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