July 28, 2008
This is Richard "Butch" Johnson of the United States Olympic Archery team. He will be 53 next month, 12 years older than the American media's dearest mommy, Dara Torres, but you won't find video of national media appearances on his official website. In fact, if you can find his official website, you're a better man than I am, Google Din.
Sure, Torres has four gold medals and has set world records but Johnson is no archer come lately, either. Beijing will be his fourth Olympics; he won gold in Atlanta in 1996 and silver in Sydney in 2000. I mean, what’s a guy gotta do to get some pub? Fail a drug test? Pose naked? (Please, no.)
Of course, his real problem is the abysmally low profile of his chosen sport. We’re talking Flo Rida here. Other than the flap about actress Geena Davis trying to make the Sydney squad, when was the last time you heard about Olympic archery? When was the last time you even thought about archery at all? I’m betting never, unless you're a bow hunter or you have a kid who goes to summer camp. Orlando Bloom as Legolas in the Lord of the Rings is probably the lone exception, and mostly for the ladies (just like this link).
You might think archery has a long and storied history with the Olympics. After all, in Greek mythology, Apollo and Artemis were both archers, and as the twin son and daughter of Zeus and Hera, they were pretty much the best sibling sharpshooters in history until Cheryl and Reggie Miller came along. But in fact, archery was dropped from the Games in 1920 due to a lack of uniform standards and did not return until 1972.
So, I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that archers aren’t better known. I mean, everybody knows Robin Hood, but that’s about it. William Tell shooting an apple off his son’s head, you say? Sorry, no dice, that was a crossbow, but the guy could sure write an overture, I’ll grant you that. Cupid? Yeah, maybe. Kind of a wimp, though. So, archers have always had it tough. Even my favorite archer, Anne Archer, couldn’t keep Michael Douglas from dallying with Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.
Which brings us back to Richard Johnson. Even though he’s the elder statesman of the U.S. Olympic team (at least until someone tells me otherwise), he’s not even the oldest archer to compete in the Olympics. That honor goes to Francois Latil, who represented the Republic of Vanautu at the age of 62 in 2000. The oldest Olympian ever? What, you don’t remember 72-year old Oscar Swahn of Sweden coming back from World War I to win a silver medal in the running deer double shot team event in the Antwerp Games of 1920 (take it easy, PETA people, they shot at moving targets shaped like deer, not live animals).
Johnson has a 19-year old teammate named Brady Ellison whose official bio states that he was shooting when he was still in diapers. Johnson might have to shoot in diapers, too, if he hopes to break Swahn’s record.