(L-R) Captain Oscar Cristi of Chile, Norman Brinker and John Russell of the United States at the Olympic Games Helsinki 1952 in July 1952.
Not many athletes today can say they rode a horse on the battlefield and also in the Olympic Games, but such was the life of Colonel John Russell.
Russell, who at 100 was the world’s oldest Olympic medalist, passed away on Sept. 30 in San Antonio, Texas. A bronze medalist in team jumping at the Olympic Games Helsinki 1952, Russell had recently gained the title of world’s oldest Olympic medalist following the death of Swedish runner Folke Alnevik in August.
Colonel was not a nickname; Russell earned the rank serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Russell joined the mounted 104th Cavalry of the National Guard, going on to fight in Africa, Italy, and Germany during the war. It was during battle in Cassino, Italy, that he was wounded, earning a Purple Heart. Russell also was awarded a Bronze Star and the Soldier’s Medal.
Until 1952, the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team was made up of members of the Army, and Russell was one of them at the 1948 London Games but did not medal. The Army team was disbanded thereafter, but Russell continued to compete, and ended up qualifying for the 1952 Helsinki Games with the first U.S. civilian team. Riding Democrat, Russell helped Team USA win its first-ever medal in team jumping.
Russell missed the 1956 Games and retired to coach modern pentathlon, later serving as chief executive of USA Pentathlon. He never lost his interest in equestrian, opening the Russell Equestrian Center in San Antonio and serving as a judge at horse shows. Russell is survived by his wife, two sons, three grandsons, and four great-grandchildren.