It's not only that he listens to Van Halen or Motley Crue while he is competing. Or that he wears cool-looking Ray Ban sunglasses and has an even cooler hairstyle--kind of a flat-top gone sideways.
It's just that Jay Barrs, the 1988 Olympic gold medalist in archery, is genuinely cool.
"He likes to jam and tell jokes whether he is with his friends or shooting or anywhere,"' said Janet Schaffer, Barrs' girlfriend who is also one of the top archers in the country. "He's just Jay."
He even talks cool.
While the other archers practiced Tuesday morning at Hjelte Park in Encino, where archery competition begins today, Barrs was busy trying to do a little "R&D"--research and development. As part of his work for a sponsor, he was experimenting with lighter points for his arrows.
The first time he shot them, they stuck deep in the target.
"I've never had this problem before," Barrs said.
He got a hammer and pulled the points out of the straw. Then, along with fellow archer George Tekmitchov, went to work repairing them.
"That's what's great about archers, if you are having problems, they help you out," said Barrs, who turns 29 today. "It's not like in other sports, where they say, 'too bad, so sad.' "
But as Barrs and Tekmitchov were filing down points and heat-welding them onto Barrs' arrows, their talk was focused on another sphere--the power of the mind in competition. It's a key to Barrs' success.
"If you could leave your conscious mind in a jar by the side of the bed in the morning, you'd shoot perfect," Barrs said. "That conscious mind is too analytical, keeps reminding you about everything.
"One day while I was competing, a song stuck in my mind and I just kept singing it over and over again and I shot perfect. Next day I tried, consciously, to sing the same song. It didn't work."
Then there are those leader boards, which tend to keep the mind conscious.
"They put those boards in that are larger than the world, and some days I never even look at them," Barrs said. "When I was shooting in the (1988) Olympic finals, I didn't look at the board all day. I kept track of what I was doing, and I knew I was in the running. With three arrows to go I knew I would leave with a medal, but I didn't know what color it would be."
Tekmitchov contends that if the unconscious mind executes a shot, it will be perfect if the archer is properly trained. That's one of the reasons Barrs is such a fast shooter, holding the bow fully drawn for a mere 3-5 seconds before he shoots, giving his mind less time to ponder.
"I'm my worse enemy," Barrs said. "In archery, nobody can block my shot like in other sports, nor can I block them. If I can keep it together, and not get caught up in the whole thing, then I'll shoot my best."
That's why, while he is waiting between shoots in competitions, Barrs plugs into his portable CD player and listens to some rock 'n' roll. Or maybe a little Whitesnake or Twisted Sister.
No William Tell Overture here.
Barrs is one of the few archers who have several sponsors, allowing him to train full time. He works for one sponsor developing archery equipment and working at trade shows. For another sponsor, he posed for a poster, Andre Agassi style, replete with bow and Walkman.
But there was a time when Barrs couldn't get any attention. Growing up in Mesa, Ariz., where he still resides, Barrs was a solid archer at the junior level but then fell off somewhat. In high school, he began to worry about how he was going to get to college.
"My parents had been professional archers, not that you can make any money at the sport, but they talked with a friend of theirs who coached archery (Dan Collier) at Colorado Northwest Community College," Barrs said.
The first time Barrs met Collier, he beat him in archery. Collier quickly offered Barrs a scholarship. After graduating from Colorado Northwest with a two-year, A.A. degree, Barrs got a full scholarship to Arizona State University, where he shot archery for two years. He is 13 hours shy of graduating with a degree in business administration.
At Arizona State, he won the U.S. Collegiate Championship. At the elite competition level, he holds six national records. In the latest rankings, he was first in field shooting--his favorite--third in indoor shooting and sixth in target shooting.
But his rise in international competition came at the 1987 World Championships, where he won the bronze medal.
"When I met Jay (1987) he was coaching at a junior archery program (in Mesa)," said Schaffer, 21. "He told me that he had just been to the World Championships and had finished third. And I didn't even know who he was. I was not even aware that the elite level of the sport existed."
Schaffer and Barrs started dating after the 1988 Olympics. Soon, she started working with Barrs' coach, Dick Tone, who spent a year breaking her form and rebuilding it. In 1990, at Arizona State, she won the national collegiate championship. This year she made the U.S. national team and ranks in the top five nationally.
"Jay and I come to the competition together, then it's like, well, shoot good, see ya after," Schaffer said. "I'm over here with the women, and he's on the other side of the field with the men. But I think it works well because we give each other support. But he usually shoots well, so he may have to give me more support."
Both Schaffer and Barrs are hoping to make the team for the 1992 Olympics, where the International Archery Federation hopes to implement proposed rule changes for competition. The changes would feature elimination rounds narrowing the field to eight finalists, making it more attractive for television.
Barrs, who excels at head-to-head competition, hopes the changes are enacted.
"In high school, I used to ski-race and play baseball and tennis," Barrs said. "When I ski-raced, I used to funnel all my energies into that starting gate, and when i played tennis, I would love to play the net in doubles. The harder the ball is hit the more I like it.
"I guess I'm a freak."