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Colonel John Russell, Team USA’s Oldest Living Olympic Medalist, Turns 100 Years Old

By Darci Miller | Feb. 02, 2020, 10:13 p.m. (ET)

(L-R) Captain Antonio Reimao of Portugal, Major John Russell, Major Fernando Paes of Portugal and Sgt. 1st Class Norman Brinker mid-conversation at the Olympic Games Helsinki 1952.


For many, winning an Olympic medal is the greatest achievement of their lives.

For Colonel John Russell, winning an Olympic medal is just one line on a very impressive – and very long – resume.

On Sunday, Col. Russell, the United States’ second-oldest living Olympian and oldest living Olympic medalist, turned 100 years old.

Col. Russell served in World War II as a member of General George Patton’s staff, picked because of his equestrian skills, and earned a Bronze Star, the Soldier’s Medal and a Purple Heart. After the war, he was named to the U.S. Olympic Team for the Olympic Games London 1948, part of the last U.S. equestrian delegation chosen from the U.S. Army. Col. Russell and his horse Air Mail finished 21st in individual jumping.

The military squad disbanded following the Games, but Col. Russell continued to have international success and was named to the first U.S. equestrian team to accept civilians in 1952. At the Olympic Games Helsinki 1952, he won team jumping bronze on his horse Democrat alongside Arthur McCashin and Bill Steinkraus.

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From 1953-55, Col. Russell trained to compete at the 1956 Olympic Games, but military duty and a broken bone in his horse prevented him from doing so, and he retired from competition soon after.

In 1956, Col. Russell returned to the United States and became the officer in charge of the United States Modern Pentathlon Training Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Over the subsequent decades, he coached the U.S. modern pentathlon delegations at six Olympic Games – his athletes winning six Olympic medals – and 22 world championships. He helped organize the 1959 and 1977 World Modern Pentathlon Championships, and organized modern pentathlon at the 1959 Pan American Games.

Col. Russell has received the Pegasus Medal of Honor from the U.S. Equestrian Federation and the Gold Medal of Honor from the UIPM, modern pentathlon’s international federation. He was inducted into the U.S. Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 2001 and the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame in 2012, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the FEI, equestrian’s international federation, in 2010.

Since Col. Russell’s retirement, he’s run the Russell Equestrian Center in San Antonio, running a stable where he and his sons carry on his legacy and train the next generation of champions.

Darci Miller is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.