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Olympian Encourages Military Athletes

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., Aug. 6, 1999 – America’s military athletes were given a rousing send-off here Aug. 4 before boarding a flight to Zagreb, Croatia, to compete in the second Military World Games, Aug. 5-17.

More than 350 military athletes and officials flew from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Croatia where they will compete against more than 8,000 athletes from nearly 80 countries. The U.S. athletes will compete in 21 of the 24 events.


The Military World Games are sponsored by the Conseil International du Sport Militaire, or CISM, which is French for “International Military Sports Council. With the motto, “Friendship Through Sports,” CISM has 121 member nations.


The keynote speaker was Olympic Hall of Fame member Army National Guard Lt. Col. Willie Davenport. He told the athletes, “We’re in a situation we call war. You’re going to a war to prevent war -- a war of peace. We compete against each other in peace.”


The 1968 Olympic Gold Medal winner in the 110-meter hurdles pointed out that the spirit of the games is what counts. He said those who come back without winning a medal shouldn’t feel they’ve let their country down. “Remember that we’ve sent the best athletes we have to offer in this country,” said Davenport, the special projects officer for National Guard Bureau’s Directorate of International Affairs. “Don’t think you’re any less.”


Davenport encouraged the athletes to represent the United States “in a way that your mother would be proud of you.”


He said the Military World Games are the second largest sporting event in the world after the Olympic Games. “To walk in there and compete at this level is probably the greatest experience most of these service men and women will ever have,” said Davenport.


Davenport is an Olympic legend. After medalling in Mexico City, he suffered a severe knee injury in 1975. Still he returned to capture a Bronze Medal in Montreal in 1976. In 1980, he and one of his teammates on the four-man bobsled team became the first African Americans to represent the United States in the Winter Games. He competed in his first Olympic Games in 1964 as a member of the Army track team in Tokyo


Davenport said competing in the Olympics “is a feeling that’s very difficult to explain: Good isn’t good enough and the best isn’t best.” He said athletes in the Military World Games would have that same feeling.


But he emphasized that, “There are going to be champions and there are going be some people who are disappointed. But that’s the name of the game.”


Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Adams, chief of the U.S. delegation to the Military World Games, said, “the games are a big experiment in military-to-military relations -- sports is the avenue. You can play soccer and not speak each other’s language. But it’s all soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen who come together as representatives of their countries.”


CISM gives privates, sergeants and lieutenants a chance to foster better relationships, Adams said. “It’s important to remember that our athletes are not athletes first; they’re soldiers, sailor, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen first,” Adams said. “They happened to be wonderfully talented athletes, but that’s kind of a second thing.


Adams said that some of the military athletes inother nations are athletes first. “So when our folks do well, they’ve done well at a distinct disadvantage because they’re competing against Olympians from other countries,” he said.


The first Military World Games were held in Rome in 1995. The United States placed eighth out of 83 countries.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageOlympic Hall of Famer Army National Guard Lt. Col. Willie Davenport told military athletes competing in the Military World Games in Zagreb, Croatia, to represent the U.S. in a way your mother would be proud of. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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