Among the 486 Olympic athletes for 2012 listed by Team USA, you find some familiar names: Michael Phelps, Gabrielle Douglas, Ryan Lochte and Allyson Felix.
Here’s one you might not have heard: Fairway resident Bill Guilfoil
What makes Guilfoil’s name stand out on the official U.S. Olympic Committee list of athletes for the 2012 games is not just the fact that he lives in Fairway, but that he will turn 90 years old in November. While Guilfoil did not make the team traveling to London, he did compete in the Olympic trials in February in North Carolina in the Olympic sport of table tennis. According to the U.S. Olympic Committee, that makes him an official Olympic athlete for 2012.
Although Phelps and company are household names around the country for their Olympic exploits, Guilfoil has long been a household name around Johnson County and the Kansas City metro for his long career as both a tennis and table tennis teacher and competitor. Now 89, he still teaches tennis several hours per week at the Overland Park Racquet Club and runs the Sunday table tennis competitions. Guilfoil has been teaching tennis at the club for 35 years, since the day it opened.
“Bill definitely is our role model,” says club general manager John Shaw. “If we could all be in as good of shape as he’s in, we would be doing well.”
“I don’t have any problems with my knees,” Guilfoil says. “I feel like I can still move and turn.”
In the North Carolina trials, Guilfoil lost to Rocky Wang, who in turn lost to the top-rated player in the playoff. At this point, the Olympic committee can’t tell if Guilfoil is the oldest athlete to enter an Olympic trial because the records are kept on athletes who participate in the games, but they cannot point to anyone older who has entered.
Before the Overland Park club, Guilfoil was the tennis director at Glenwood Manor near 91st Street and Metcalf Avenue and he owned sporting goods stores. Glenwood Manor in its day attracted some top names in the game — like Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors — to its courts.
“I’ve met lots of interesting people,” Guilfoil says of his career which now spans more than 70 years since he started playing both sports at age 13.
He has been a serious competitor in both sports, playing in two world table tennis tournaments and several nationals while highly ranked. He remembers playing in a tennis tournament in the early 1950s against Alex Olmedo, who went on to win Wimbledon in 1959.
Bill’s only Olympic regret is that he did not have time to tune up his game more with tournament play before heading to North Carolina.