Soldiers Prepare to Bolster Team USA at Olympic Games
By Tim Hipps
Special to American Forces Press Service
ALEXANDRIA, Va., Aug. 1, 2008 Sixteen members of the U.S. Army Family will compete, coach or serve as training partners for Team USA at the 29th Olympic Games to be held Aug. 8-24 in Beijing.
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program marksman Maj. Michael Anti (center) shoots his way to a silver medal in the men’s 50-meter rifle three-position event in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games at Markopoulo Olympic Shooting Centre in Greece. Anti will compete in his fifth Olympics in the 50-meter prone rifle event Aug. 15 in Beijing. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program Greco-Roman heavyweight wrestler Staff Sgt. Dremiel Byers will compete in the 264.5-pound weight class on Aug. 14.
Byers, a world champion in 2002, will be accompanied in China by WCAP teammate and training partner Spc. Timothy Taylor, whom Byers defeated in a best-of-three finale at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling in Las Vegas. They train together at Fort Carson, Colo., home of the WCAP wrestling and boxing teams.
“That’s my brother from another mother,” Byers said. “We live that every day with our unit. We really are family. If you look around at Nationals or you look into it, we’re the only actual team. The other guys are [members of wrestling] clubs that live all over the country and come together for one event. We’re in there pounding it out every day with each other.”
Byers, 33, of King’s Mountain, N.C., long ago promised his late grandfather, Theodore, that he would win an Olympic medal. He intends to fulfill the promise in Beijing, and has focused on nothing else.
“This is more than important,” Byers said. “Everything is about having this come to pass. If it is not about getting the medal, I want it out of my life. I did it at the World Championships, and I am going to do it at this Olympics.”
WCAP marksman Maj. Michael Anti, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist in three-position rifle shooting, will compete in his fifth Olympics in the 50-meter prone rifle event Aug. 15. Anti, 43, of Winterville, N.C., will lie on his stomach and fire a .22-caliber rifle at targets with bull’s-eyes 10.4 millimeters wide, much smaller than a dime.
Although Anti was the only soldier to win a medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, the U.S. military boasts a proud history of producing Olympians.
At the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, 52 of the 290 U.S. male competitors were military athletes who combined to win 20 individual or team medals – an impressive 22 percent of Team USA’s hardware. The military secured eight gold, five silver and seven bronze medals that year. Fifty military athletes represented the U.S. at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
Because the nation is at war, the numbers are not what they used to be, but through the Army Family Covenant, the U.S. Army continues to offer servicemen and women the same opportunities as those they are sworn to defend.
“Our numbers are down from years past; however, the World Class Athlete Program does offer soldiers an opportunity to continue to train and work toward their lifelong dreams of competing in the Olympics, as well as competing in national and international competitions,” WCAP Director Willie Wilson said. “The soldiers that are a part of this program are not only outstanding athletes, but they are outstanding soldiers.
“Our soldiers are very appreciative that the Army and America have given them the opportunity to continue to pursue their dreams,” he continued. “They take that very seriously and they’re honored to represent the Army and their country.”
WCAP rifle coach Maj. David Johnson, a 19-year member of the U.S. National Rifle Team who competed at the 1992 Barcelona Games, also coached Team USA’s rifle shooters at the 2004 Athens Games. He was the first soldier to learn that he would be going to Beijing.
U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit shooter Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker, under the tutelage of Johnson, won gold medals in both the 50-meter and three-position air rifle events at the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He will compete in the 10-meter air rifle Aug. 11 and the 50-meter three-position rifle event Aug. 17 in Beijing.
“I have to say a big, big ‘thank you’ to coach Dave Johnson, because he’s the one that’s pushing me harder and harder after each event, and he’s the one who finds the things I need to work on next,” said Parker, 33, a three-time Olympian from Omaha, Neb. “I think he is probably the top coach in the world. He comes along and always finds a way to push you and make you do better.
“He’s not settling for silver, bronze, or just missing out on the finals,” he said. “He wants gold medals, and he’s always pushing athletes to getting those. He’s invaluable to all of our training and competitions.”
Cadet Stephen Scherer, 19, of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., also will compete in the 10-meter air rifle competition on Aug. 11. WCAP shooter Staff Sgt. Keith Sanderson, 33, of San Antonio, will compete Aug. 16 in the 25-meter rapid-fire pistol event.
Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Elizabeth “Libby” Callahan, 56, of Columbia, S.C., will make her fourth Olympic appearance in the women’s sport pistol event Aug. 13.
USAMU pistol shooter Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski, 40, of Saginaw, Mich., will compete in his third Olympics in the 50-meter free pistol event Aug. 12.
“To win Beijing, I’m going to have to shoot 60 excellent shots,” he said. “You can’t slip at all.”
Szarenski knows the drill. He placed fifth at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and 13th at the 2004 Athens Games.
“When you look at the guys shooting on the Olympic line, any one of us can win it,” Szarenski said after winning a silver medal at the 2007 Pan Am Games. “It’s just whether it’s our day that day. I’ve shot the numbers before to win the Olympics. It’s not like I have to have the moons aligned in order to win it. I’ve just got to do what I do, and I’ll be all right.
“You can’t have a medium day,” he said. “You’ve got to be on top of it. I’ve beaten the guys that have won the Olympics, so it’s there – just got to keep working at it.”
USAMU shotgun shooter Pfc. Vincent Hancock, 19, of Eatonton, Ga., set a world record in every skeet-shooting event at age 18. He will toe the line Aug. 16 in Beijing.
USAMU shotgun-shooting teammates Spc. Walton Glenn Eller III, 26, of Katy, Texas, and Spc. Jeffrey Holguin, 29, of Yorba Linda, Calif., will compete Aug. 12 in double trap.
“I was at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and Glenn Eller was in Houston shooting by himself,” said Holguin, who joined USAMU in the spring of 2007. “All of us are now shooting together in the marksmanship unit with great competition day in and out among us, and it’s just improved all of our games.
The hardest part of this Olympic experience is waiting for the day to come, he said.
“I wanted to compete at the highest level of clay target shooting. To do that, I had to commit myself to the sport,” he said. “The U.S. Army and the USAMU have given me the necessary resources to compete and win at the level required to win an Olympic medal.”
As Holguin makes his Olympic debut, Eller, who joined the Army in 2006, will be competing in this third Olympics. He placed 17th in 2004 and 12th in 2000.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be an Olympian,” Eller said. “The Olympics were greater in every aspect than I had anticipated, both in highs and lows. The emotions involved are so great because of the years of training that go into that one day of competition.”
Retired Sgt. 1st Class Bret Erickson, 47, of Bennington, Neb., will compete in trap shooting Aug. 10.
WCAP boxing coach retired Staff Sgt. Basheer Abdullah, the U.S. head coach in the Athens Games, will serve as a technical advisor for Team USA in Beijing.
WCAP boxer Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Downs won Team USA’s light heavyweight spot at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Houston but did not get the weight class qualified to compete in Beijing. He will make the trip to China to serve as a training partner. WCAP fencer Spc. Cody Nagengast will serve as a training partner for Team USA’s epee squad.
“The soldiers perform well on a day-to-day basis as soldiers prior to being assigned to the World Class Athlete Program, and they do have the opportunity to go to the Olympics and represent the U.S.,” Wilson said. “But they also look forward to going back and serving alongside their fellow soldiers. We’ve had soldiers who have left the program and served in various positions throughout the Army, and some soldiers left the program and made the ultimate sacrifice.”
NBC Universal will present 3,600 hours of Beijing Games coverage. NBCU will provide the most live coverage in the United States -- 75 percent -- of any Summer Olympics in history. The broadcasts will be available on seven NBC Universal networks: NBC, USA, MSNBC, CNBC, Oxygen, Telemundo and Universal HD.
Viewers also can watch the Beijing Games on the Internet. NBCOlympics will feature about 2,200 total hours of live streaming broadband video coverage, the first live online Olympic coverage in America. The Web site also will provide television schedule information, breaking news, instantaneous results and video highlights.
“I’m sure all Americans are excited about having the opportunity to watch and support their soldiers on TV,” Wilson said. “There will be lots of opportunities to see your soldiers competing at the 2008 Olympics.”
(Tim Hipps works in the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs Office.)