Meet local, two-time Olympian Jim Buehning
story by michael prochaska • photos contributed
Jim Buehning has stepped foot in more countries than U.S. states, shaking hands of word-record athletes - the echo of cheering crowds still heard clearly after all these years.
He now remains fairly anchored as a design engineer at Anthony International in Madison.
He is happily married, has a daughter approaching her senior year at Morgan County High School, tapes logos of his favorite sports teams to the wooden cabinets in his cubicle (Yankees, NY Jets) and works the concessions at University of Georgia football games.
It’s hard to meet Buehning, who, at 6-foot-6-inches, towers over his coworkers, and not suspect that in a former life, he was an Olympian.
His name may not ring a bell with most American households, partly because Buehning competed about 25 years ago but mostly because he played in a team sport in which fame is directed more to the country represented than the individual.
But his expertise in handball has since been sought after decades after competing against the rest of the world.
Last weekend, Buehning traveled to Flanders, N.J., to help organize the longest running Team Handball tournament in the U.S. For the 53rd year, teams from Atlanta, Boston, Washington D.C., New York City, Long Island and Canada participated in a tournament outdoors on the grass. Buehning has played in competition since age 12, winning the national championship in 1976 and finishing second in 1999.
Inspired by his father, who was president of the U.S. Handball Federation and vice president of the International Federation, Beuhning would go to the gym with his dad every Friday night as a child.
In fact, Buehning’s younger and older brothers were also Olympians and world-class athletes.
Athleticism was a family forte that Buehning even passed along to his daughter, who is on the Morgan County High School tennis team.
But he was never phased much by pressure, not even on the court. It hits most players in one way or another. It knocked out the sugar balance of a guy on his team and caused him to become a diabetic, Buehning said.
But the adrenaline rush and perspiration and television cameras broadcasting the games to millions of viewers just fueled his winning spirit even more.
Buehning competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and again in the 1988 Seoul, South Korea Olympics. The experience, he said, ranks third to his wedding and the birth of his daughter.
“The event is unsurpassed,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable experience going on the court and hearing people cheering, ‘USA, USA’ every time you score a goal.”
What made it more memorable, he recalled, is the interaction with athletes from all over the world, and finding out how much they have in common with you.
Thousands of miles away from home, Buehning remembers calling back to his girlfriend after a game only to see the world record setter in the mile make a similar call.
“I believe the Olympics does fulfill its original goal,” Buehning said. “It brings people together for competition without political boundaries.”
Buehning will view the 2012 London Olympics this week from his TV but when asked if he will attend the 2016 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Olympics, Buehning replied, “Oh, I’m going. I’m sick and tired of standing on the sidelines.”
What is Handball?
Handball, the second most played sport in the world, is a mix between basketball and soccer. Two teams of seven players pass a ball and attempt to throw it in the goal of the other team during two periods of 30 minutes. At the each end of the court is a net, which is nine feet wide by six-and-a-half feet high. The ball, which is about the size of a volleyball, can be dribbled, but players cannot hold the ball for more than three seconds without passing it. Players can only take up to three steps after catching a pass before passing the ball again or making a goal. Like soccer, a goalie defends the goal. Circle runners are players who block shooters. Wings are offensive players who shoot from the sides of the court and big shooters are tall players who lead the offense.
Printed in the August 2, 2012 edition.