Tim Olyphant, a bona fide star of film, has a list of credits a mile long. Here’s a few: I Am Number Four, Rango, A Perfect Getaway, Hitman, Diehard: Live Free or Die Hard, Gone In Sixty Seconds, Go, Stop-Loss, Dreamcatcher, The Girl Next Door, The Crazies.
Olyphant’s most visible work, however, has been on television, on HBO’s critically acclaimed Deadwood series, and presently as the U.S. Marshal on FX’s Justified. The FX Network drama, based on author Elmore Leonard’s short story, Fire in the Hole, earned Olyphant a lead actor Emmy nomination just last year.
While Olyphant’s known for his edge, I’m a fan of his comic turns, notably in The Office, NBC’s award-winning series. Olyphant played “Danny Cordray,“ a rival paper salesman and ex-boyfriend of “Pam’s.”
In short, Olyphant has acting chops. He’s a serious thespian, with a diverse palette of work that leans more toward character roles despite his leading-man good looks, and the guy is ridiculously good-looking; chiseled cheekbones, chiseled abs, with a long lean frame that can only be described as a swimmer’s body.
The funny thing: Olyphant is a swimmer, or was a swimmer.
It seems everybody swims or swam at one point in their lives, even many we consider famous; movie stars, politicians, authors, musicians.
Some stars paddled around in the pool. They participated, were apart of the massive horde we know and love as the great-big swimming family. And then there are others, the ones with hardcore swimming cred, who suffered through the year-round training grind, frigid morning practices, razor-burns from shaving-down for big meets.
Timothy Olyphant is one of them.
Olyphant started swimming at the tender age of six, and doubled-down on the sport when he was in seventh grade, committing to a future goal many swimmers understand, competing at the division I collegiate-level. A central valley, California kid from Modesto, in the late 1970s he crisscrossed the state rubbing shoulders with swimming elites like Joey Hudepohl, Dan Jorgensen and Pablo Morales.
By Olyphant’s senior year in high school, he traveled to Orlando, Florida to race at Short Course National Championships. That was back in 1986, when Troy Dalbey was the hottest up and coming freestyler, and when legends like Hungary’s Tamas Darnyi were just starting to dominate. (Darnyi went on to win four Olympic gold medals, 200 and 400 I.M. at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games.) Olyphant finaled at Nationals in the 200 I.M. Dave Wharton, who won the race in a 1:47.11, went on to win Olympic silver in Seoul, Korea, two years later.
Off his 1986 Nationals swim, Olyphant was recruited by legendary Olympic Coach, Peter Daland, to the University of Southern California. At USC Olyphant also trained under assistant coach David Salo, now the Trojan’s Head Coach, who is presently leading an international squad of Olympians that includes Rebecca Soni, Kosuke Kitajimia, Jessica Hardy and Ous Mellouli to name only a few.
Olyphant was the third-fastest 200 backstroker on the Trojan team, but it appears 200 I.M. remained his strongest event. He netted an 11th place at Pac-10s in swimming’s sprint decathlon his sophomore year, no easy feat considering Pac-10s was the toughest conference in the nation in the late 1980s.
Back in 1995, before I was married to Mel (aka “Gold Medal Mel”), I worked at the William Morris Agency (now William Morris Endeavor). WME is “the” talent agency in Hollywood, commanding the lion’s share of the town’s most sought after actors, directors, writers, producers, and anyone else with talent in any field imaginable. The hours were long and hard, but the perks could be entertaining. Like swimming, actors start off with an enormous amount of effort, time and energy trying to make it in the biz, and many would routinely make their rounds through the WM offices, keeping on top of what roles were out there. These were the focused, career actors, those with serious intentions of making it. Olyphant was among them, a young 20-something with longish spiked hair, leather jacket, fingernails painted onyx, and swagger that communicated genuine confidence. But he still carried with him the genuine niceness and unfailing politeness we’ve come to expect from kids who grew up swimming.
Olyphant quickly booked roles, but it wasn’t until director Doug Liman cast him in GO, in 1999, that the buzz started. That role really catapulted him.
Two years later, in an interview with OUT Magazine, he was asked why he stopped swimming. Olyphant’s answer was interesting: “As the saying goes, Bruce Jenner is a millionaire, and Mark Spitz is a dentist. It’s the wrong sport.”
Don’t judge Olyphant too harshly. That quote was in September 1998, the pre-Michael Phelps era.
Later this year, we’ll catch up with Olyphant and see if he’s changed his opinion. Until then catch him, Monday nights, 10:00pm EST, on FX Networks Justified.