Every four years the names of Olympians become commonplace in our vocabularies as we cheer on the United States in the worldwide competition. But which ones make impressions that last beyond the closing ceremonies? Here, we present Texas-born sports heroes who may not have made it on your radar screen. Their accomplishments, however, are no less significant in bringing glory to the Lone Star State.
Born in Comanche, Lanny Bassham dreamed of competing in the Olympics but lacked the requisite athleticism. He discovered rifle shooting at age twelve and later attended the University of Texas at Arlington on an ROTC scholarship. He made the Olympic team in 1972, but the pressure in Munich overwhelmed Bassham, causing him to leave with silver rather than gold. Bassham began interviewing past gold-medal winners about their concentration techniques, and four years later he returned to the Games, in Montreal, with renewed focus. He won the gold on a technicality (he and the silver medalist had the same score). So, in a show of respect, he had the silver medalist (an American) join him on the higher gold medalist’s platform as the National Anthem was being played. He planned to compete again in 1980, in Moscow, but President Jimmy Carter chose to boycott the event, a decision Bassham has questioned repeatedly. Bassham now lives in Flower Mound, where he runs Mental Management Systems.
If Houstonian Tara Cross-Battle makes the Olympic team, Athens will mark the fourth Olympic appearance for the 35-year-old volleyball star. The outside hitter won bronze in 1992, seventh place in 1996, and fourth place in 2000. Cross-Battle played professionally in Brazil before becoming a coach-player of the USA Women’s National Volleyball Team in 2001.
The Olympic dedication of swimmer Josh Davis has not yet ended, but his accomplishments thus far deserve recognition. The San Antonio native attended the University of Texas at Austin. He won three gold medals in 1996, and in 2000 he brought home two silvers from Sydney. Davis is hoping to make the Olympic team this summer—his Web site even has a pop-up countdown to Athens. But winning isn’t top priority for the 31-year-old because Davis places the highest value on his faith, his wife, and his four children. On the devotional section of his Web page, he wrote, “I’m a Christian who happens to be a professional athlete.”
Walter “Buddy” Davis was multitalented in the world of sports. In 1951 he was a third-team All-American for his basketball skills at Texas A&M University. Then, at the 1952 Olympics, in Helsinki, Davis soared six feet, eight-and-a-half inches to win a gold medal in the high jump. Later he added two NBA championships to his athletic resume, one with the Philadelphia Warriors and the other with the St. Louis Hawks. Future generations of his family will have big sneakers to fill.
Despite the stereotypical images of cowboys on horseback, surprisingly few Texans have dominated Olympic equestrian competitions. Conrad Homfeld , however, didn’t horse around with his riding skills. The boycott ruled out any chances for a medal in 1980, but there was no stopping him four years later in Los Angeles when he won a gold and a silver. Homfeld has also won designer-of-the-year awards from the American Horse Shows Association for his commitment to producing top-notch jumping courses.
John Kolius isn’t selfish about his sailing skills—he wants to share them with aspiring seamen. His performance at the 1976 Olympics earned him a silver medal, and he has participated in five America’s Cup campaigns, three times as skipper and twice as coach. Born in Houston, Kolius remained true to his Texas roots and now lives in La Porte. He sells boats and sailing gear in Seabrook and New Orleans, and he also runs Kolius Sailing Schools, in Seabrook, teaching experienced young sailors how to race.
Randy Matson contributed heavily to the track-and-field world of Texas. This Kilgore-born athlete grew up in Pampa and attended Texas A&M, where he played basketball for one season. Matson’s strength, however, was in throwing the shot put, and he earned a silver medal in 1964, in Tokyo, and a gold in 1968, in Mexico City. Hurling the shot put 70 feet 7 1/4 inches in 1965, Matson established himself as a world-record holder, and he repeated this feat in 1967 with a toss of 71 feet 5 1/2 inches. Matson was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1984. Today he still throws his weight around, only now into his work with the Texas A&M Foundation.
Although he lived a short life, Charlie Paddock used his time on earth to make a name for himself as the world’s fastest human. In the 1920 Olympics, in Antwerp, he won gold medals in both the 100-meter dash and the 4 x 100-meter relay and took the silver medal in the 200-meter dash. Four years later, in Paris, Paddock added another silver medal to his collection for his performance in the 200-meter dash. (A character in the movie Chariots of Fire, which highlights the track competition of that year, is based on the Gainesville native.) Paddock participated in the Games once more in 1928, in Amsterdam, but left empty-handed. His life ended tragically when his plane crashed near Sitka, Alaska, during World War II.
Although he was raised in Davis, California, water polo goalkeeper Craig Wilson can call Beeville his original hive. His team won the silver medal in both 1984 and 1988, but the Americans failed to bring back a medal from Barcelona in 1992 (they placed fourth in the competition). Wilson retired from the sport that year.
For a complete list of Olympic medal winners from Texas, go to www.texasalmanac.com/olympic/.