Several years back, a group of endurance aficionados offered $1,000 to anyone who could finish in the top 10 in each event in the competitor's lifetime. They offered $10,000 to anyone who could do it in a single year. "Everybody figured it was an impossibility," says Steve Shaw, the endurance rider and runner who came up with the idea of an endurance Triple Crown. "No one had ever done it, and we figured no one ever would."
No one ever won the cash, and all bets have since been called off. That's perhaps a fortunate thing for those who were bankrolling the bonus, because Johnson appears to be the man who could have collected their money. He runs like Pheidippides, rides like the Lone Ranger and approaches these disciplines, especially his running, with the work ethic of a Japanese industrialist.
"Tom, been doing much riding?" a competitor asks in camp, the night before the Ride and Tie Championship.
"Nah, don't need to."
"Expect to do well?"
"Well, now, we'll have to wait and see."
Snatches of truth hunker in Johnson's responses.
Doesn't need to ride much? Certainly not as much as the others do. As a boy he spent weekends and summers chasing cows on the family cattle ranch in Salinas, Calif. As a collegian he played polo as a member of the University of California at Davis teams that won two national championships. He can stick to a horse like lint on Velcro.