Shooter's steady hand grasps past Grandfather's gun is key to gold medal PAN AMERICAN GAMES

August 13, 1991|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

HAVANA -- The grandfather was a hunter who used an old Browning shotgun because he said it felt fine in his strong, steady hands. His name was Bert Thompson and he was a guide, a member of the Sauk Indian tribe who took the big-city bankers and the lawyers into the country he loved along the Omaha River bottom in central Illinois. He hunted ducks and ran trap lines and fished the Illinois River. He was the last of a dying breed.

The grandfather passed this love of the outdoors and this ability to handle a gun to the grandson. Now, whenever the grandson sees a concrete target house on a skeet range, he thinks of the old man with the steady hands and the gentle heart.

"My grandfather died some time ago," Bill Roy said. "When I look at that house, I see him and I smile."

At the Pan American Games, there are a lot of big stories about politics and sports. This is a smaller one about a 32-year-old shooter, a military man retreating to his past to set two world records, to win a gold and a bronze medal, to keep his grandfather's memory alive.

Dirt poor growing up in Versailles, Ill., Roy always dreamed of taking the lessons he learned from his grandfather and shooting with the best equipment. And one day, he did fire the top-of-the-line merchandise, gleaming, gauge shotguns that went for $5,000 and up.

"But, after awhile, I decided to shoot the gun I always wanted," he said. "I wanted to come back to my roots, so I went out a bought a $1,000 Browning. Since then, I'm the hottest shooter in the world."

This is how hot Roy was at the Pan Am Games: Sunday, he combined with U.S. teammates Mike Schmidt and Dean Clark to hit 445 targets, establish a world record and win the gold in the team competition. Yesterday morning, he came out to the Enrique Borbonet Shooting Range that sits on a pasture on the outskirts of Havana and hit 200 straight targets, turning 4-inch saucers that fly at 90 mph into puffs of fluorescent pink smoke.

"I really felt like I was in the zone mentally," Roy said. "In practice, I tried to miss. I couldn't miss. I shot 100 straight targets a day for seven days."

But working his way around the semicircle range during the afternoon, Roy missed the easiest shot of the day and took the bronze.

"In pilot lingo, I had what you call 'fog in the cockpit'," he said. "I was thinking way ahead, how nice it would be to hit 25 straight, and I missed the third shot."

It didn't happen. But Roy was hardly upset. If you send Americans with guns to Cuba, this is the man you want along.

Roy is pure American military, an Air Force captain who flies F-4 jets and an English professor who teaches at his alma mater, the Air Force Academy.

"I've been to some countries you're not supposed to go to, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, East Germany," he said. "I've found, in the competitive world, the rank and the nationality disappears. We find ourselves embracing each other as fellow competitors. This is an opportunity for me to be anything but an ugly American. You have to embrace the people, do what you can on an individual level."

So there Roy was yesterday, congratulating gold medalist Alfredo Torres of Cuba and Clark, the silver medalist from Vista, Calif. He gave an interview to Cuban television, lauding the facilities. He even signed the cap of a competitor.

"The real story is that I don't belong here," Roy said. "I'm a father of three, who, in two weeks, will be a father of four. I'm not a world-class skeet shooter."

In a sport filled with athletes whose heart rates register somewhere around comatose, Roy is considered something of a live wire. He actually can speak in complete sentences and smile while the competition is taking place. No wonder his roommates at the academy nicknamed him "Two Dogs."

"I had the split personality of two dogs," he said. "One would be your best friend that would waddle up to you, and the other one would go for your jugular. I have the academic side and the killer training of the fighter pilot."

The killer side of his personality will now recede. Tomorrow morning at 7, Roy is due back in Colorado Springs, Colo., to teach world literature to college sophomores.

"I'll be standing in front of a class at the Air Force Academy, saying, 'Ladies and gentlemen, open your syllabus to Page 1,' " he said. "We will start out reading 'Beowulf' and his search for pain. Don't read anything into that."

The grandfather would understand. In shooting, Roy finds only joy.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.