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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | ARCHERY : Southland Focus /
A Look at Area Athletes Making their Mark at the Summer

Right on Target : America's Best Archer, Justin Huish, Is Having a Ball and Advancing Toward Medal While Doing So


ATLANTA — Among a crowd of 5,000 at the Olympic archery complex, Justin Huish is not hard to find.

Just look for a swirl of activity.

Dozens of well-wishers and autograph seekers flock to where America's best archer sits with his family between sessions. He always obliges.

After all, it wasn't so long ago that Huish, 21, was on the flip side of such scenes.

"I know some people get irritated when they're asked to sign stuff, but I remember when I was on the other side of the fence," he said Tuesday. "It can ruin the image you had of that person."

Huish, a gregarious sort, doesn't seem to mind. He is perhaps even more fun-loving than he is talented.

He won twice Tuesday, advancing to the third round in men's individual competition and said that was fun too.

In both of his matches, he took the lead for good after three arrows. He beat Kazakhstan's Sergei Martynov, 166-157, in the first round, and followed that with a 166-155 victory over England's Gary Hardinges.

"I did pretty good," he said. "I wasn't as shook up as I thought I'd be. I was just testing the water. This is definitely a fun experience."

Since he was selected to the U.S. archery team last spring, Huish has been among the most visible of American athletes in lesser known Olympic sports.

A popular national entertainment magazine last month ran a spread featuring a big picture of him playing air guitar. Following that, he appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," making a trick shot through rings, fire and two champagne glasses that popped a balloon set on a target.

"They wanted me to do something tricky," Huish said.

Right up his alley. At home in Simi Valley, Huish has devised a unique practice range.

Remember those through-the-window, off-the-arena-scoreboard, kiss-the-glass, nothing-but-net shots Michael Jordan and Larry Bird used to make on TV commercials?

They've got nothing on Huish.

From a greenbelt adjacent to a neighbor's house, Huish, shoots across the street, up a driveway, through his family's garage, out the back door, across his back yard to a target on a hill.

Nothing but X.

The street's name: Broken Arrow. Honest.

Huish goes along with whatever is requested in his unofficial role as archery's cover boy.

This week, Atlanta's largest newspaper ran a photo of Huish in a William Tell pose with an apple on his head.

"I'm just having fun with it," he said. "People always ask me to do something different."

There is nothing ordinary about Huish.

In a discipline that prizes concentration, he routinely steps onto the range laughing, having just cracked a joke.

"I think it bothers them that I can do what I do and still have fun," Huish said of his competitors. "I don't do it to bother anyone. I do it because that's me."

During one preliminary round of the Olympic trials, Huish broke the tension--and startled several edgy opponents--by organizing a pool on the first archer who hit a bull's-eye.

When people asked why he would do such a thing, Huish responded, "You start focusing on hitting the X, you forget about scores and everything else. The next thing you know you're shooting better than ever."

Forty archers entered his pool.

Huish only transforms once he has stepped to the shooting line.

"Then it's time to do what I've been training for all this time," he said.

Although he is the reigning national champion, Huish still is somewhat of a newcomer among elite archers.

Seven years ago, his father, Bernie, a bow hunter, went to a mom-and-pop archery shop near the family's home. Instead of buying excess inventory, he wound up buying the business.

Eight months later, Justin first picked up a bow and arrow.

Three weeks after that, he won his first tournament.

"He's a natural," said Huish's mother, Ona.

Huish became a bona fide Olympic medal contender by winning the U.S. Target Championships last year. American men have won Olympic gold medals four times in the last six Games.

Bernie Huish compares his son's title-winning performance to a bowler rolling his first 300 game.

"That was the turning point," he said. "Before that it was always, 'I think I can. I think I can.' There, he found out he really could."

Justin's title has led to greater expectations from just about everyone but himself.

"I'm just going to go out and shoot," he said. "If I lose, I lose. I've already made it farther in this sport than I ever dreamed I would."

He is quick to add, however, that he would "love to go home with some jewelry"--a medal.

So far, Huish has managed to stay in his "quiver," the term he uses for retaining his concentration and composure. No easy task considering the distractions.

Huish is carrying a pager that is buzzing constantly with messages, some from people he says he doesn't even know. He also is making sure that he doesn't miss out on any aspect of being an Olympian.

"Anything I've heard to do that's fun, I've tried to do," Huish said. "I don't want to leave and say, 'Gosh, I wish I would have done that.' I'm here to shoot and win a gold medal, but at the same time I want to have fun."

He is quick to add, however, that he would "love to go home with some jewelry"--a medal.

And he has had fun.

"From the time I stepped off the plane there's been a constant smile on my face," he said.



* NAME: Justin Huish


* HOMETOWN: Simi Valley

* COMPETITIVE HISTORY: First major victory and turning point in career came when he won the U.S. Target Championships last year. Finished sixth at U.S. Indoor Championships in 1995 and fifth in 1994.

* PERSONAL: A gregarious sort, Huish, 21, has appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." In a discipline that prizes concentration, he routinely cracks jokes and steps onto the range laughing.

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