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Military Athletes Medalless After First Week in Atlanta

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 26, 1996 – It's been a frustrating road for U.S. military athletes competing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. As the Games begin the second week, armed forces athletes have yet to earn a medal in Olympic competition.

The largest group of military competitors are at Atlanta's Wolf Creek Shooting Complex, where 12 of the military's 19 Olympians are competing. Two members of the Army Marksmanship Unit from Fort Benning, Ga., reached the finals in two events, but failed to reach the medal stand.

Army Sgt. Terry Wetzell Dewitt came the closest -- finishing fourth in the women's double trap competition. Dewitt narrowly missed a bronze medal, scoring 137 of 160 points -- two points away from a third-place tie. American Kim Rhode claimed the gold medal with a 141.

Dewitt entered the event final tied for third place with Germany's Suzanne Kiermayer -- the eventual silver medalist. However, she fired her worst round of the competition in the finals, hitting only 32 of 40 targets.

"I didn't know where anybody stood, but I knew that they were dropping targets out there," said Dewitt, a Cincinnati native competing in her first Olympics. "I don't usually let that bother me, but I was aware that targets were going down. I was more nervous during the final than I was during the match."

Another missing the medal stand was Army Capt. Rob Harbison, also of Fort Benning. He captured seventh in the men's 10-meter air rifle competition.

Harbison entered the final round tied for second place with eventual gold medalist Artem Khadzhibekov of Russia. However, the Fallston, Md., officer struggled in the finals, falling to sixth place before recovering with a 10.7 score (of 10.9 possible) on his next-to-last shot. That ninth shot put him in third place with one shot left.

He said he didn't know his standing going into the final shot, but said he felt he was close by the crowd reaction to his ninth shot. "So I started getting a little nervous," said Harbison. "In this sport, that kills you." His final shot scored only 8.4, dropping him to seventh place.

Harbison's 10-meter rifle teammate, Capt. Glenn Dubis of Fort Benning, finished 41st.

The ranges were also tough on other armed forces shooters. Army Spc. David Alcoriza (Fort Benning) missed his first target during a shootoff for the sixth and last slot in the men's Olympic double trap finals. He finished eighth.

Army Reserve Sgt. Ben Amonette of Radford, Va., finished 25th in the men's 50-meter free pistol competition and 44th in the men's 10-meter air pistol. Army Sgt. Bret Erickson also had problems, finishing 20th in the men's single trap.

Before the Olympics started, U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling coach Rob Hermann said his team was capable of a half-dozen wrestling medals. Hermann, a Navy petty officer first class from Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., got three of the six he was after.

Matt Ghaffari (286 pounds), Brandon Paulson (114.5) and Dennis Hall (125.5) all earned silver medals in Atlanta. In the modern history of the Games, American Greco-Roman wrestlers had won only seven medals before Atlanta.

Two Fort Benning soldiers competing in the Greco-Roman tournament saw early round losses end their chase for Olympic gold.

For Army Spc. Rodney Smith, the road to improving his 1992 Olympic bronze medal at 149.5 pounds ended after four bouts. Smith started well, taking a 6-1 decision over Colombia's Jose Escobar and a 12-1 technical fall over Turkey's Alcin Karapinar.

However, Smith lost a 4-0 decision to Uzbekistan's Grigoriy Pulyayev in the third round, sending him into the consolation bracket. A 3-2 decision to Cuba's Liubal Colas Oris eliminated him from competition.

Army Staff Sgt. Derrick Waldroup won four of six matches in the 198-pound Greco-Roman competition and clinched seventh with a 10-2 decision over Marik Svec of the Czech Republic. Waldroup lost his first-round bout, a 3-0 decision to Aleksandr Sidorenko of Belarus that sent him to the consolation bracket. From there, he defeated Finland's Harri Koskela 11-1, Fahrudin Hodzic of Bosnia-Herzegovina 10-0 and Hungary's Nandor Gelenesi 6-0.

Entering his final day, Waldroup still had a shot for the bronze medal, but lost to Germany's Maik Bullman, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist. Bullman went on to win the bronze medal, and Waldroup ended his competitive career after beating Svec. At 33, Waldroup now becomes coach of the Army wrestling program.

In other Olympic sports, Army Reservist 1st Lt. Ruthie Bolton scored 29 points in two games, helping the U.S. women's basketball team to a 2-0 start in Olympic Pool "B" competition. Bolton tossed in 21 points in the United States' 98-65 win over Ukraine and shot 59 percent from the field (10-17) in her two games.

The top four team finishers in each Olympic pool advance to a single-elimination medal round. There are two pools in women's basketball, with the Americans competing against Cuba, Ukraine, Australia, Zaire and South Korea.

The U.S. men's team handball squad lost its first contest 23-19 to Sweden. Air Force 1st Lt. David DeGraff and Army 2nd Lt. Michael Thornberry are members of the American squad. The American men's handball team competes in Pool "A," one of two divisions. Other pool members are Croatia, Russia, Kuwait and Switzerland.

(Army Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Ide of Soldiers magazine contributed to this story.)

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