At least 20 Richmonders have competed as Olympians, and more than likely, the true number is double or triple what is found in the local archives.
Farrar: Commentator Brooks Smith has been rediscovering Richmond’s sports history, and Brooks, just coming off the winter Olympics in Vancouver, the Americans had an unprecedented total of medals, and it reminds us that there have been some Richmond athletes who have appeared in the Olympics over the years.
Smith: Well, Wayne, you’re right, it was an action-packed 17 days and 17 nights. I’ll confess to staying up a little longer and later than usual to watch some of the action. I’ve located close to 20 Richmond-area Olympians, that range from fencers to Grecco-Roman wrestlers, and I’ll confess that this is a bit of inexact science, there’s no law to Richmond Olympians, there’s certainly no statue to them. So I’m sure there are very many more that have faded from the history books, but I was pleased to see all the accomplishments in the 20 that I found.
Farrar: We’re talking here about the summer Olympics as well as winter, and there was at least one gold medal winner, if not several, right?
Smith: There were. Let me tell you about the first on the list. His name was, is, Dr. Harold Thompson Mann. I call him the “under minute man,” because he was the very first swimmer in history to break the one-minute mark in the 100-meter backstroke. He competed in the 1964 games in Tokyo and he grew up swimming at the Ginter Park Community Pool.
Farrar: Well. How about some of the other Richmond Olympians?
Smith: Well, no surprise, we have a couple of horsemen in the crowd. Two in particularly, Joe Fargis and Conrad Homfeld, formed an equestrian team in the 1984 games in LA. They won individual gold and silver, respectively, as well as team gold medals. Homfeld rode a gray stallion named Abdullah, and Fargis rode a horse named Touch of Class, who connects to another very famous equestrian, Frances Rowe, who was an Olympic trainer and equestrian who lived pretty nearby in the countryside outside of Richmond.
Farrar: And there are still others in a sports that I frankly did not realize was a sport: paddling? Smith: Well, this is in the category of last, but surely in no way least. We know Jon Lugbill these days as the mild-mannered, soft-spoken, wildly successful leader of the Richmond Sports Backers. But he is also among the best paddlers in history.
Farrar: This is a canoeing event, I take it.
Smith: It is. He was considered a child prodigy. Made his first world team at the age of 13, five-time world champion in C-1 slalom, which is a type of canoe slalom. Won 12 world championship gold medals and competed in the ‘92 games in Barcelona. Would have won gold there, but because of a gate-touch penalty at the infamous gate 23, he landed in fourth place.
Farrar: And do you have any others that are of note?
Smith: There are so many other compelling human-interest stories here. There’s a ‘92 Olympic fencer who trained at the downtown Y, there’s a 1988 J.R. Tucker first baseman who made the Olympic baseball team in that year. But, alas, many others who have probably fallen off our collective radar, and I would love to revive their legacies, so if anyone out there is listening and knows of an Olympian I haven’t touched upon, please let me know and I’ll try to showcase them. Farrar: What’s the best way to pass that information onto you? Smith: I suspect if they call the station they can find me.
Farrar: Okay. Very good, thanks to Brooks Smith for rediscovering Richmond’s sports history, on WCVE Public Radio. You can find Brooks’ commentaries at our website: ideastations.org/radio.