Work in Sports
Johnson-Jordan follows in father's Olympic footsteps
SYDNEY, Australia -- Here's one Olympic story that never quite got off the ground. Had the girls advanced a little farther, maybe all the way to the finals, you might be more familiar with the joy of second-generation Olympians, the pride of torch-bearing fathers. But the beach volleyball team of Jenny Johnson-Jordan and Annett Davis went down the tubes Saturday when the duo lost in the quarterfinals and, well, that's that.
So you won't be seeing any pictures of 1960 decathlon champion Rafer Johnson enfolding his daughter in his long arms. But, boy, you should have. Together, they make a regal pair. Rafer, 65, has aged well enough that he still looks more like some heroic representation of an athlete than the actual, more typical goods. And Jenny, thin and statuesque as any woman in the sport, strikes the flip side of Olympic beauty.
The father was, of course, culturally adrift while watching his daughter's team advance at Bondi Beach, a wacky playground with hard-rock music and whitewater views. He never had a chance to compete at a venue, or in a sport, where host DJs led the crowd in waves (going counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere, of course) or the fans left to enter one. "No, it's not like my Olympics," admitted Rafer, who had also been in Melbourne for the 1956 Games. But he didn't decry the sense of play that this game seems to promote. "It's still the Olympics, though," he said. "But now it's Jenny's."
Oddly, the daughter didn't get into sports out of any effort to emulate her father. She didn't even know her father had been a famous Olympian until he made one more fabulous run, climbing the steps of the Los Angeles Coliseum to light the torch in 1984. "I think that touched the final spark," said Rafer. "I think that's what got her going."
"I had never seen the medal up to then," she said. "In fact, the first time he got it out was after [the Los Angeles Games], for my sixth-grade class. We were studying ancient Greece." So why not bring in a Greek god for show-and-tell?
Jenny, who is married to former UCLA football star Kevin Jordan, plunged into a variety of sports but finally settled on volleyball in college. And then, when longtime college roommate Davis graduated, Jenny followed her to the sand game. The two, both evangelists who like to slip Christian material to their opponents before each match, have since become the United States' top squad, supplanting Holly McPeak's pairing (McPeak and new partner Misty May also lost Saturday).
But Johnson-Jordan and Davis will not be the world's top team -- the gold medalists will be decided here on Monday -- nor even the best story. Unless you like father-daughter stories better than volleyball ones.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Richard Hoffer is in Sydney covering the Games for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back daily to read Hoffer's behind-the-scenes reports from Down Under.