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Part-time Athletes Train and Compete Against the Odds

By Doug Gillert
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Nov. 22, 1996 – American service members competing in the 27th world military pentathlon championships here Nov. 1617 fought an uphill battle. It's a battle they've won in the past (1979), but not this year.

The Army's World Class Athlete Program at Fort Sam Houston put together a highly competitive threeman team, said Ed Miller, who oversees the competition. That team included soldiers Jim Gregory, Fred Eaton and Scott Christie. This competition, sanctioned by the Conseil International du Sport Militaire, was likely their last together.

About 65 countries belong to the international sports council and can compete in any of the military games, said Army Col. Robert Henson. Because this was an Olympics year, however, fewer countries could afford to field teams for the military competition. "We had a good field, though," said Henson, who works for Miller, the garrison's director of plans, training and mobilization.

Miller has headed Sam Houston's sponsorship of military pentathletes since 1974. He was in charge when the United States took the world championship here in 1979 but said none of the military athletes have gone on to win Olympic events. Seven Army athletes and one Air Force athlete trained for the 1996 games, he said. Gregory, a medical platoon leader at Fort Hood, Texas, was an alternate on the 1996 U.S. Olympic pentathlon team.

Despite the low turnout, Henson praised the quality of athletes sent to the championship. "We had the [Olympic] silver medalist from Russia and the bronze medalist from Hungary, who also was the gold medalist in the 1988 Olympics."

Americans from every service are eligible to compete, Henson said. Pentathletes train individually and together, with many entering temporary duty status to train in San Antonio. For many of the other countries, however, training and competing are fulltime jobs, Henson said.

Of the team that competed here, Gregory will return to Fort Hood, Eaton will be discharged this month, and Scott Christie also will leave the Army to attend college, Miller said. All the other pentathlon trainees also are leaving for various reasons.

"Next year, we'll start bringing in aspirants for the 2000 Olympics," Miller said. Most of the other countries' teams competing here already form the nucleus of their 2000 Olympic teams, he added.

"We'll field a team for next year's military competition in Hungary," Miller said. Members will train at their bases and at Fort Sam Houston; Poland has invited the Americans to train with them for a week before the Budapest championships.

The soldiers who come to Sam Houston to train fulltime do so as members of the Army World Class Athlete program, Miller said. "We'd like to have them for a year, because this is the most grueling sport, along with the decathlon. You can practice running, swimming and shooting anywhere, but you've got to have some class fencers to fence against and good horses to ride."

Miller said Sam Houston hosts international competitions throughout the year and also sends the athletes to foreign competitions to hone their skills.

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