Elite Military Athletes to Continue World Class Training
By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 1997 Military athletes with world-class skills will continue to receive DoD help toward reaching their Olympic goals, the Armed Forces Sports Council chairman said at a recent press conference.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Adams said the services will continue their to prepare service members for future Olympic competition. "They will receive the opportunity to have specialized training, including a reassignment if necessary," said Adams. "They'll get the opportunity to refine their particular [athletic] skill or talent."
Although the next Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, is three years away, Adams said, each service must look now at potential Olympians. "They need the time to train up to international standards," said Adams, "and they have to compete against other world-class athletes to prepare for something like the Olympics."
Three of the four military services run world-class athlete programs designed to turn nationally rated military athletes into international and Olympic-level competitors. Troops selected train for their sport full-time at military training centers, through ROTC programs at major stateside universities or at the U.S. Olympic training centers.
Army started its world-class athlete program in 1978 and now trains most of its athletes at Fort Carson, Colo. Air Force began basing its world-class program at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., two years ago, while the Marines directly assign their athletes to units near U.S. Olympic training centers. Navy provides support to its nationally rated athletes, but has no formal program.
Most of these programs start preparations two years before each Olympiad. However, Adams said, the services are already out recruiting their quality athletes. Service coaches initially target their training for 1997 armed forces events, but they are also looking to mentor Olympic potentials.
"There are thousands of military service athletes in the ranks that have special athletic talents," said Adams. "It's those talents that could lead to an armed forces title and a chance for international competition. The sooner you can identify that talent, the more time have to prepare that athlete for the major competitions."
One who believes Adams' philosophy is Army Staff Sgt. Derrick Waldroup, 1996 armed forces athlete of the year. A Greco-Roman wrestler who competed in the Atlanta Olympics, Waldroup is now coaching the Army's wrestling team. He said he believes it's never too early to recruit Olympic prospects.
"All you have to do is just go to the field -- there's an amazing amount of raw talent out there," said Waldroup, just returning from a worldwide search for Army grapplers. "But in order to mold these wrestlers into world-class competitors, you've got to get them now, work with them and place them in competition that will help them develop into top wrestlers."
Waldroup's search brought 65 soldiers to the 1997 All-Army wrestling camp at Carson. From that number, Waldroup will select grapplers who will compete at the armed forces wrestling tournament in March at Pensacola (Fla.) Naval Air Station.
"We've got wrestlers in camp who've been to the nationals and the Olympic trials, and we had a couple of guys just miss out on slots to the Olympics," said Waldroup. "They bring a lot of experience to the table -- experience we can use to build toward the 2000 trials and a shot at Sydney."
Another aspect important to a military athlete's success is competing at CISM -- the Conseil International du Sport Militaire. Adams places a heavy emphasis on CISM competition because it tests U.S. military athletes against their peers from 115 other nations.
Many of the Olympic sports are also common to all service members around the world, Adams said. "That's why we compete at CISM," he noted -- win or lose, the Americans gain exposure and experience in high-level competition.
With some U.S. athletes concentrating for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, Adams said DoD will also support military athletes vying for slots. "Alpine and Nordic skiing events, biathlon -- they also have their ties to the military," said Adams. "We sent people to Lillehammer [Norway] in 1994, and we've got people training right now in Vermont and New York in biathlon."
Although the military drawdown has cut the number of potential athletes, Adams said service commanders are still willing to allow the best athletes to compete. "Think of where the military was in 1986 and where it is in 1997. We're a third smaller than we were before," he said. "In a time of downsizing, field commanders have to make difficult choices about their people. Still, our sports programs have the same level of support that they did before."
For more information about service world-class athlete program requirements, contact your local sports office.