Soldiers and Army Family Members Hit Olympic Heights Down Under

By Rice, Harriet; Hipps, Tim | Parks & Recreation, December 2000 | Go to article overview
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Soldiers and Army Family Members Hit Olympic Heights Down Under

Rice, Harriet, Hipps, Tim, Parks & Recreation

When the 700-member U.S. Olympic Team marched into the stadium for the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, Sept. 15, two Army wives and 15 soldiers were among them.

They carried with them the hopes and cheers of their families, friends, coaches, and the entire United States Army

Of the 77 active duty soldiers who spent two years training under the auspices of the Army's World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson, Colo., 56 qualified for the Olympic Trials, a new record after the program reorganized in 1994. Paulette Freese, chief of WCAP in the U.S. Army's Community and Family Support Center's Soldier and Family Support Directorate, was excited about that increase.

"It's fantastic, not only because the numbers are higher than they were in 1996, but also because it is much more difficult to get soldiers onto the Olympic team now," she said.

She explained that with more countries wanting to compete there was not enough time or space for all, qualifying for some sports, like boxing, was done by hemisphere. Those tougher standards and fewer berths on the team means the WCAP soldiers who became part of the U.S. team heading to the Olympics were the best of the best, but that's no surprise to those who know the program.

"The program is the epitome of all the Army Sports programs. It gives soldiers in the field something to aspire to. Sports directors operating programs and facilities Army-wide identify many of the WCAP members," said Col. Jeanne Picariello, director of CFSC's Soldier and Family Support Directorate, under which WCAP falls.

Even though WCAP members train year round, they are still soldiers first, Picariello said. They are always ready to revert to their tactical mission, remaining current in their military occupations and pursuing academic goals along with athletic training.

Those athletes who did not qualify for the Olympics returned to their Army duties. Some may reapply for the program in two years to prepare for 2004.

"They're fantastic soldiers. You want every single soldier in the program to make the U.S. Olympic Team. But unfortunately, it just doesn't happen that way," said Freese.

It was Army spouses who brought home gold -- the first and last medals of the games. On Sept. 16, Nancy Johnson, wife of Staff Sgt. Kenneth Johnson, Army Marksmanship Unit, won gold in the 10-meter air rifle; and on Sept. 30, La Tasha Colander Richardson, wife of Army 2nd Lt. Roderick Richardson, Fort Bragg, N.C. anchored the women's 4 X 400 relay to bring home the last of the United States' 39 gold medals. (The spouses train on their own and are not members of WCAP.)

After the Games and before returning to their military units, soldiers who qualified for the Olympic trials and the three Army athletes and two Olympic team staff members who made the U.S. team took time to help the Army recruit future soldiers, traveling on behalf of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, talking to elementary, middle and high school students, and giving clinics.

During their visits the three Army World Class Athletes shared exciting stories from Sydney, using their achievements to convey messages about hard work, goals, and values such as courage, honor, duty, loyalty, and integrity.

[The 10 Olympic shooters who are stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., belong to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command. Sgt. 1st Class James "Todd" Graves won a bronze medal in skeet shooting. Members of the Army Marksmanship Unit also visit schools and Reserve Officer Training Corps units, holding safety clinics and giving demonstrations.]

Despite years of training and drawers full of medals from countless national, international and world championships, the chance for Olympic gold always comes down to one brief moment. For the three WCAP athletes who made it to Olympic heights this year, those moments were shining but not golden.

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