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Military Bobsledders, Biathletes Qualify for Olympics

By Harriet Rice
Special to American Forces Press Service

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Jan. 20, 1998 – When the sun rises on Nagano, Japan, for the XVIII Winter Olympic Games next month, eight soldiers and an airman will be among the 200 athletes representing the United States of America.

Five biathletes and three bobsledders, members of the Army's World Class Athlete Program based at Fort Carson, Colo., qualified for the U.S. Olympic team during Olympic trials held Dec. 26-Jan. 4. Airman 1st Class Deborah L. Nordyke of the Air Force World Class Athlete also placed on the women's biathlete team.

Three women and two men qualified at the U.S. Biathlon Association trials in Jericho, Vt. In the women's biathlon, Spc. Kara Salmela, Elk River, Minn., had the highest composite score after four days of cross-country skiing on fast snow and small-bore rifle shooting in strong winds. The women raced in two 15-kilometer individual events and two 7.5-kilometer sprints.

"I'm definitely happy," said Salmela, 26, who came in first in one of the 15-kilometer races. "I told myself this wasn't a big deal even though it's the Olympic trials and all that. I told myself I had to have 20 good shots, and I hit 17."

Spc. Kristina Sabasteanski, Richmond, Vt., came in third overall. On the last day, Sabasteanski started in 6th place and decided to go for broke. She won a sprint in 26:10.8, missing no targets.

"I had nothing to lose. Not only did I have to beat four people, but I had to beat them by about one minute," said Sabasteanski, 29, no stranger to Olympic trials. In 1994, she finished one place shy of a trip to Lillehammer, Norway.

"It's slowly hitting. It really hasn't sunk in. I'll see the Olympic bag we have and when I see the Olympic rings, it's, like, 'Wow! That's actually me,'" she said.

The third woman qualifier, Spc. Ntala Skinner of Sun Valley, Idaho, did not have to participate. She qualified by virtue of her performance on the U.S. biathlon team during the 1997 season.

In the men's biathlon, Sgt. Daniel Westover, Colchester, Vt., clocked winning times in the 20-kilometer individual event and the 10-kilometer sprint. There is also a 7.5 kilometer relay. Westover finished the sprint in 30:10.8, 30 seconds faster than teammate and fellow soldier 1st Lt. Rob Rosser, Applegate, Ore. "Right now I'm so excited. I'm really looking forward to the [Olympic] races - seeing how I stack up. It's a life dream come true, the whole experience," said Westover, 23, a Vermont native.

The nine-member U.S. biathlon team departed for Europe to train and compete in two World Cup events in Ruhpolding, Germany, and Antholz, Italy, before their trip to Nagano.

Olympic bobsled trials were held in Park City, Utah. Spc. Garrett Hines and twin brothers Spc. Darrin Steele and Spc. Dan Steele were selected as crew members on each of three U.S. four-man teams.

Hines, 28, of Memphis, Tenn., will serve as brakeman on the USA I. A six-foot, 210-pound track athlete, Hines pushed the two-man USA II sled to three World Cup medals in the 1996-97 season.

The Steeles, 28, hail from Moline, Ill. Both were star athletes in college. Darrin Steele took silver in the decathlon at the 1994 Olympic Festival and is a veteran of the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics. Dan was recruited by the U.S. Bobsled Federation in 1996 after competing in the 1996 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials as a member of the Army World Class Athlete Program.

"Half of us -- in fact, most of us -- wouldn't even be here at this point without the [World Class Athlete] program," commented Sabasteanski. "Financially, we would never be able to get this far, and the support we've gotten from everyone has been amazing."

Army Capt. Chuck Lyda, Truckee, Calif., will help coach the U.S. Olympic Biathlon team and Army 1st Lt. Bill Tavares, Lake Placid, N.Y., will help coach the U.S. Olympic Bobsled team.

(Rice is a writer with Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation.)

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