Army Spouse Strikes First Gold in Sydney Games
By Tim Hipps
Special to American Forces Press Service
SYDNEY, Australia, Sep. 18, 2000 A United States Army spouse was the first athlete to strike gold Down Under in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games.
Nancy Johnson, wife of Staff Sgt. Kenneth Johnson, scored 9.9 points to break a first-place deadlock on her 10th and final shot in the women's 10-meter air rifle finale Sept. 16. She defeated Korea's Cho-Hyun Kang, 497.7 to 497.5, in a climactic frenzy for the first gold medal of the 28th Olympiad at Cecil Park Shooting Centre.
"I did it! I did it!" Johnson exclaimed moments after realizing her historic feat. "I won the first gold medal at the Olympics!" Make that the first gold medal of the Millennium Games -- and the first of any kind in the event since Pat Spurgin's gold in Los Angeles in 1984.
"The fact that it's the first one is awesome," said Johnson, 26, of Hinsdale, Ill. "That's pretty cool. They can't take this one away. I did my job." She considered the victory a redemption for finishing a disappointing 36th in the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
"To be able to hold on and constantly move up is a good feeling," she said. "There was a pack of us in there with the same score, so it was anybody's game. I usually keep track of where I am. But because the scoreboard was above my head, every time I looked up I was looking into the lights, so I didn't want to do that. So I stopped looking."
"I had to finish strong," she said. "Had to finish strong." On the final shot, Johnson fired a 9.9 to runner-up Kang's 9.7.
The women's competition consists of 40 shots fired from the standing position within 75 minutes, with the top eight shooters entering a 10-round final with 75 seconds per shot. In the finals, the 10 ring is one-half millimeter wide -- less than 1/50 of an inch.
"My dad got me into shooting at age 15," she explained. "I wanted to try archery originally, but there wasn't anything around that was available to me. But there was a local rifle club."
From there, she climbed the ranks of the air-rifle elite, knowing all along that it was the first event on the 2000 Olympic Games calendar.
"You know as an air-rifle shooter that your event is always going to be first, no matter what Olympics it's at," she explained. "I knew a year ago that my event would be first and that I had a whack at winning gold. I was just thinking: 'How cool would it be to win the first gold medal of the Olympics?' In my qualifying round, I was a little nervous and a little tense."
And then she carried on like a champion.
"I just got over it and went out there with a smile on my face," Johnson said of the final round. "And went out there to do my best." On this day, her best was best in the world.
"I just wanted to get through it," Johnson said. "I knew that if I could keep it together with a lot of 10's and not with the 9's. I had no idea that it was so close. I really wasn't paying attention to anybody else and what they were doing.
"I looked up at one point and saw that I was in medal contention, but I told myself I wasn't going to look anymore because it was unnerving me a little bit. I had no idea the final shot was what won it. I'm pleased that I didn't know."
Her husband, Ken, who's competing in Sydney in the same air-rifle event for men, is a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga. He said the unit has adopted Nancy.
"She's been training at Fort Benning for the last three years now," said Johnson, who married Nancy in 1998. "She trains with the Army and works with the Army coach. She's part of our team in a loose sort of way, so it's just an outstanding feeling.
"[U.S. Army Recruiting Command] is very interested in her because she's my wife and they want to show that husbands and wives can do things in the Army together, so that's really cool. It's just a great feeling. She's been training for 15 years, and I've been training for about 17 years. So this is a logical culmination of it all.
"She was in the '96 Olympics, but she came in 38th. So she really had a personal vendetta to come back here and kick some butt, and she did. I wrote all my letters home already saying the probability of one of us coming home with a medal is very high, so here it is. Both of us have been shooting scores capable of winning regularly.
"I knew she could do it," he said.
Nancy's confidence soared knowing she had the Army in her corner.
"They've played a huge role," she said. "Col. (Arch) Arnold has given me permission to train at Fort Benning, which I started doing about 3 1/2 years ago. That's been really instrumental because there aren't many places in our country to train, and Fort Benning has one of the best facilities in the country. Even the Army coach has really adopted me. Bill Krilling has been instrumental in a lot of my success."
Arnold is the marksmanship unit commander. Krilling is the unit international rifle team coach.
Between rounds Saturday, Nancy turned to husband Ken for advice.
"I didn't say anything magical, but at the same time, I think I knew what to say. But, hey, she was the one who pulled the trigger," the sergeant said. "It's hard to draw a parallel between the Army team and a husband-and-wife team because a husband-and-wife team is so much more to me. But our Army team is very close-knit. If one of us wins a medal, it's just as good as the next guy winning a medal. That's awesome. And this can get very contagious. She's just beside herself right now.
"It could've been the last gold medal and it could've been one in the middle. But being that it's the first, and for the United States, and my wife -- you can't beat that."
(Tim Hipps is the Army Community and Family Support Center Olympics correspondent in Sydney, Australia.)