With a little more than a week to go before the 2012 London Olympic Games, our American athletes are packing their bags for the trip of their lifetime -- the opportunity of a lifetime.
This is also the case for our military athletes who will be vying for Olympic Gold.
Readers might be surprised at this "side" of our military, but our service members have been participating in the Olympics since 1896 as athletes and as coaches in both the summer and winter games and, according to the American Forces Press Service, since 1948, more than 600 soldiers have represented the United States as Olympic athletes and coaches. They have collected more than 140 medals in a variety of sports, including boxing, wrestling, rowing, shooting, bobsled and track and field.
In fact, this year the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) will send what it describes as its strongest contingent of athletes and coaches ever to the Olympic Games in London. Their mission this time, "Win the Olympics."
Other military services are also sending their best athletes to compete in the Olympics making up a "Military Team USA" consisting of 16 athletes and four coaches and assistant coaches.
These service members will compete alongside other Americans at the London Olympics. They will compete in sports ranging from wrestling to sharpshooting to field and track.
They will wear the Team USA gear, and when they win, they will step up to the podium to hear "The Star-Spangled Banner" play. "But these Soldier-athletes continually represent the Army on and off the field -- through their discipline and determination," according to the U.S. Army's official homepage.
(WCAP, with headquarters at Fort Carson outside Colorado Springs, Colo., provides soldier-athletes the support and training needed to successfully compete in Olympic sports in the summer and winter Olympics, and also in the Pan American Games, world championships and Conseil International du Sport Militaire's Military World Games.)
By far the largest military contingent will be the Army's team with 17 members.
Among the Army Olympians will be two-time Olympian Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers, 37, of Kings Mountain, N.C. Byers, a Greco-Roman wrestler who will represent the U.S. in the 120-kilogram (264.5-pound) class in London. Byers is the only U.S. wrestler who has won gold, silver and bronze medals at the world championships.
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program then-Staff Sgt. Dremiel Byers wrestles to a 1-1, 2-0 victory over Oleksandr Chernetskyi of Ukraine in their opening match of the Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling 120-kilogram tournament Aug. 14, 2008, in Beijing.
Also Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski, an air pistol Olympian, who will return to the Olympics for the fourth time in the shooting event. Previously, Szarenski has gone to the Olympics with the Army Marksmanship Unit, which also sends Soldiers to the Olympics. Szarenski started shooting in the sixth grade and started competing in the eighth grade.
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program pistol shooter Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski practices at Fort Benning, Ga. He will compete in his fourth Olympics this year in London in the air pistol event.
Other Army Olympians:
- Staff Sgt. John Nunn, a dental hygienist, will compete in the 50-kilometer race-walk event in the Olympics, an event he has only competed in three times. He won the Olympic trials for the 50-kilometer racewalk and has competed in the 20-kilometer racewalk in the 2004 Olympics. He puts in 100 miles a week in training.
- Two-time Olympian Staff Sgt. Keith Sanderson, 37, of San Antonio and a former Marine, will compete in the 25-meter rapid-fire pistol event. He set an Olympic record during the qualification rounds in Beijing but left China without a medal.
- Spc. Dennis Bowsher, 29, of Dallas, will compete in modern pentathlon, a five-sport event that includes fencing, and swimming, equestrian show jumping, cross country and laser pistol shooting all in the same day.
- Two-time Olympian Sgt. Spenser Mango, 25, of St. Louis, will compete in the 55-kilogram/121-pound Greco-Roman class.
- Spc. Justin Lester is a strong medal contender in the 66-kilogram/145.5 pound Greco-Roman division.
Coaching and assisting our athletes will be WCAP wrestling head coach Shon Lewis, four-time Olympian Maj. David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Charles Leverette and Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman.
(Four-time Olympian Basheer Abdullah, a retired staff sergeant will serve as Team USA's head boxing coach in London.)
Rounding out the Army Team are six sharpshooters from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga. They are, according to the Stars and Stripes:
Vincent Hancock, a skeet shooter, and Glenn Eller and Joshua Richmond, both double-trap shooters, man the shotguns for the U.S. team. Jason Parker fires three-position rifle, and Michael McPhail and Eric Uptagrafft will try their hands in prone-position rifle.
- Capt. Weston "Seth" Kelsey, a Schriever Air Force Base, Colo.-based fencer who will wield the epee in London, will represent the Air Force.
- Petty Officer First Class Sandra Uptagrafft, married to prone rifle event competitor Eric Uptagrafft, will represent the Navy in the free and air pistol competition.
- Finally, the Marine Corps will be proudly represented by 64-kilogram champion Jamel Herring, a Marine from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
We wish these service members and veterans success in their present mission: "Win the Olympics."
Photos: Courtesy of the U.S. Army
Additional Source: American Forces Press Service