Olympic Games A Way Of Life For McMillan

Staff Writer, The San Diego Union

The first year that Bill McMillan made the United States Olympic team some of the big names at the Games were:

Czechslovakia's Emil Zatopek (winner of the 5,000 and 10,000 meter runs), and U.S. gold medalists Bob Richards (14-11-1/4 in the pole vault) and Bob Mathias (decathlon winner for the second Olympics in a row).

When McMillan won a gold medal, he did it the same year that Rafer Johnson won the decathlon and Wilma Rudolph won a pair of gold medals for the U.S. in the women's sprints.

When he best in the world assemble next month, Bill McMillan — a member of the U.S. rapid-fire pistol team — will be there.

If there were a pension plan for Olympic athletes, McMillan would be a prime qualifier.

When he takes the firing line in Montreal, McMillan — a San Diego resident who works as a weapons coordinator for the county sheriff's department — will compete in his sixth Olympiad. It's believed to match a record for most Olympic Games competed in formerly held by a Hungarian fencer named Rosemary Janusz.

McMillan, who participated in his first Olympics at Helsinki, Finland in 1952 and won a gold medal in Rome in 1960, says he's not become the least bit blaze over making the team.

"There's probably no feeling like the one you get when you make it the first time, but it never gets to be old hat," said McMillan. "It's still a very good feeling."

McMillan has earned the right to represent the U.S. in pistol shooting every year except one since 1952 by qualifying in tryouts staged by the National Rifle Association. The one year he didn't make it, 1956, he had gun trouble in the tryouts.

He trained, he says, the equivalent of an hour and half a day for 45 days prior to the most recent trials in Phoenix with a pistol he borrowed from some Marine friends.

Though he hadn't competed since the 1972 Olympics, the retired Marine lieutenant colonel scored 1,786 of a possible 1,800 points to out distance his nearest rival by seven points.

"I was apprehensive about making the team before the trials started, but I shot well the first two days, and was 11 points up going into the final day," McMillan relates. "At that point, you just try not to do anything wrong and hold the position."

Olympic rapid-fire competition, as McMillan describes it, sounds like a simulated shootout.

Five profile targets are placed 25 meters away from the firing line, and turned at the command of the contestant. The first time they're turned the shooter has eight seconds to fire once at each target, the second time he has six seconds, the next four.

McMillan points out that the similarity to any armed confrontation is rally deceiving.

"It's a sport," he says. "There's really no connection between it and a combat-type situation. It was derived from Swiss and German events of a long time ago, and there's nothing of a combative nature about it."

Americans have never dominated the rapid-fire event at the Olympics, a fact McMillan attributes mainly to differences in courses and equipment Americans encounter when moving from national to international competition.

His major rivals at Montreal, he believes, will come from entrants from the Iron Curtain countries. He's not aware of any particular shooters who'll be favored in the event.

"I'm aware of countries, but not individuals," McMillan says. "The Iron Curtain countries are the ones that have a big personnel changeover, usually, and they're the ones to look out for."

McMillan will be one of the first U.S. athletes arriving at the Olympic Village after processing through Plattsburgh, N.Y. on July 10. He'll have nearly two weeks to practice before his event is scheduled, July 22-23.

In two days, he'll spend around 25 minutes on the firing line in the two-day event, about 35 seconds of actual firing time.

"I'll be nervous, you betcha," the veteran Olympian says. "But in my particular sport, it helps to get pumped up. Your reactions are a little bit faster than normal when you're excited."

Presently he's putting in about an hour a day of practice during his lunch hour at one of three police ranges he frequents.

"It's mainly to keep my arm in shape, and stay mentally alert," McMillan says. "It's better to under practice than over practice in shooting so you don't go in worn out."

With all the experience he's had, McMillan should certainly know how to prepare for the Olympic Games.