The interesting story of a local sporting star, Savarna Yang
May 6, 2022
Ideals Are Like Stars by Angela Walker is the inspiring true story of Yvette Williams, the first New Zealand woman to ever win a gold medal at the Olympics. Born in 1929 in Dunedin, Yvette was the daughter of a cabinetmaker and a champion highland dancer. From a very early age she loved sport but it wasn’t until her teen years that she began to seriously play herself.
A student at Otago Girls’ High School, she participated in every sport the school had on offer – whether it was netball, basketball or tennis, you’d be sure to find Yvette there. However, she didn’t discover athletics until she was seventeen, when she went along to a local sports gathering just for fun. There, she won both the 100 yards sprint and the high jump against seasoned competitors, who I’m sure were certainly not expecting the new girl to come and beat them outright.
Yvette realised that she’d found something she wanted to pursue. She practiced hard and in just her first year of athletics she broke the national shot put record. In her second year she represented Otago at the National Championships – where she won the broad jump. Yvette had begun her journey towards the Olympic Games.
One of the reasons I chose Ideals Are Like Stars was knowing that Yvette grew up in Dunedin. Living in Dunedin myself, I was interested to find out how different life would have been in the 1940s. Quite a bit as it turns out, but there were also some similarities. While women athletes then were considered fragile and delicate (one newspaper wrote an article slamming the Olympic uniform as it wasn’t ‘feminine’ enough), and a relatively new idea, Dunedin city itself didn’t seem as different as you might expect.
In fact, I recognised a lot of place names and even noticed some familiar looking buildings in the photos that are included… And speaking of the photos, I loved the addition of these! They made the story so much more interesting and enabled me to really visualise Walker’s descriptions. I only wish there were more. Sometimes Walker mentions a specific photo that does not appear in the picture gallery and this is a bit annoying.
Walker obviously knows what she’s talking about when it comes to athletics. She explains the various techniques and training exercises very competently and clearly. I was able to understand everything, which was great, as before I read Ideals Are Like Stars I didn’t even know the difference between the shot put and the discus!
However, in places the writing is slightly stilted. Some parts feel like the story is being told like a novel but then suddenly you find yourself being overloaded with facts that don’t always seem necessary and stop the flow of the story. I think the plot could have kept to the main points more.
But overall, Ideals Are Like Stars is a very interesting and well-researched biography that anyone interested in sport or history would enjoy. From a little girl who enjoyed challenging herself to jump over her grandpa’s flowerbeds, and wrestling with her younger brother, to a world sporting champion and celebrity, Ideals Are Like Stars tells us Yvette Williams’ story.
– Savarna is 13 and lives in rural Dunedin.