Army Athletes Make USA Winter Olympics Team
By Tim Hipps
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2010 Seven current and former members of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program have earned spots on Team USA for the XXI Olympic Winter Games, scheduled for Feb. 12-28 in Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.
Five current and former WCAP bobsledders, along with U.S. men’s assistant bobsled coach Sgt. Bill Tavares, will tackle one of the world’s fastest tracks in Whistler, site of the bobsleigh competition Feb. 20 through 27.
Army Sgt. Jeremy Teela, a biathlete who serves in the Vermont Army National Guard, earned a spot on his third consecutive U.S. Olympic Team in biathlon, a combination of cross-country ski racing and rifle shooting from standing and prone positions. Five men’s biathlon races of different distances will be staged Feb. 14 through 26 in Whistler, site of the best performance of Teela’s career last year.
Four of the six U.S. men’s and women’s bobsled pilots learned the tricks of their trade while serving in WCAP under the tutelage of five-time Olympian Tavares, who will assist U.S. men’s bobsled head coach Brian Shimer. Tavares served as an Army National Guardsman and coach of the Guard’s outstanding athlete program before joining the WCAP.
Sgt. John Napier, of Lake Placid, N.Y., and a member of the Vermont Army National Guard, will drive Team USA II’s four-man sled. His WCAP teammate, Army 1st Lt. Chris Fogt of Alpine, Utah, will be among that crew, joined by Chuck Berkley of Clayton, Calif., and Steve Langton of Melrose, Mass.
Napier also will pilot USA II in the two-man competition with Langton aboard.
“Since my earliest memories, all I remember thinking about is this moment,” Napier said after being named to the U.S. Olympic Team. “It’s a dream come true.”
Shimer pointed out that Napier, at age 23, is perhaps the most experienced of the U.S. drivers because he’s the son of a bobsledder and began competing at age 8.
“This has just been a breakout season for John,” Shimer said. “The world has been awakened and they are not looking over him. John was under the radar. His first statement was to let the world know he was here. Some of these guys were his idols, and now he’s beating them down the hill.”
Virginia National Guard Army Sgt. Mike Kohn, a member of the National Guard Outstanding Athlete Program, was one of Napier’s boyhood idols. A former WCAP bobsledder, Kohn will drive Team USA III’s four-man sled with the crew of Jamie Moriarty of Winnetka, Ill.; Bill Schuffenhauer of Orem, Utah; and Nick Cunningham of Monterey, Calif.
Kohn capitalized on a career-ending concussion suffered by Todd Hays that opened the door for the National Guard athlete to qualify a third Olympic sled for Team USA. Only three nations were qualified to enter three men’s sleds into the 2010 Olympics.
“This was one of the best experiences I’ve had in this sport,” said Kohn, who won the 2002 Olympic bronze medal as a push athlete with Shimer, after he secured another Olympic berth at St. Moritz on Jan. 16-17. “Winning an Olympic medal was amazing, but it doesn’t compare to the team camaraderie felt over these last few weeks. The Olympics is about more than winning medals, and this experience is one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Kohn’s four-man team tied Canadian pilot Pierre Lueders’ squad for sixth place at St. Moritz with a combined time of 2 minutes, 10.85 seconds.
“What an awesome day,” Kohn said. “Jamie, Bill and Nick were so fired up. They had tears in their eyes before we got to the line, and the entire team was behind them. There were so many people at the start and finish encouraging us.
“During the America’s Cup races in Park City, Utah, I almost hung it up,” Kohn added. “Todd was beating me and I thought it would be impossible to qualify and I realized my Olympic dream as a driver wasn’t going to happen. Then all of a sudden I was given another chance. It wasn’t the way I wanted to get another chance, but I was grateful for the opportunity. I can’t thank Todd enough for his help and support over the last few weeks in helping our team. He’s been a huge part of my success.”
Kohn also will drive USA III in the two-man competition. His brakeman has not yet been determined.
Reigning four-man world champion Steven Holcomb, a former WCAP pilot from Park City, Utah; will drive the Team USA I sled, backed by Justin Olsen of San Antonio, Steve Mesler of Buffalo, N.Y.; and Curt Tomasevicz of Shelby, Neb.
“The ‘Night Train’ is becoming more and more popular and getting a lot of notoriety as we lead up to the [Olympic] Games, and it’s well deserved,” Shimer said of Holcomb’s four-man sled. “These guys have the whole package.”
Holcomb also will drive the USA I sled in two-man competition with Tomasevicz aboard.
On the women’s side, former WCAP bobsledder Sgt. Shauna Rohbock of the Army National Guard Outstanding Athlete Program, who serves in the Utah Army National Guard, will pilot Team USA I. A 2006 Olympic silver medalist who teamed with Valerie Fleming in Torino, Italy, Rohbock, of Park City, Utah, will be joined by Michelle Rzepka of Novi, Mich., in America’s top-rated women’s sled.
Erin Pac of Farmington, Conn., and Elana Meyers of Douglasville, Ga., will compete in USA II. Bree Schaaf of Bremerton, Wash., and Emily Azevedo of Chico, Calif., will be in USA III.
“We are thrilled to be sending our best U.S. women’s team ever to Whistler,” said Darrin Steele, chief executive officer of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation Chief and a former WCAP bobsledder himself. “The selection committee had to make some very difficult decisions regarding the push athletes chosen to the team. Our deep pool of talented athletes is what makes us hard to beat.”
Rohbock led the U.S. women with a fifth-place finish at the World Cup event Jan. 16 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
The Germans swept the podium spots in a closely contested race. Cathleen Martini teamed with Romy Logsch to top the field by only one-hundredth of a second with a combined time of 2 minutes, 14.89 seconds. Reigning Olympic champion Sandra Kiriasis partnered with Christin Senkel for a total time of 2:14.90 to claim silver, while Claudia Schramm and Berit Wiacker slid a combined time of 2:15.07 for bronze.
Rohbock and Rzepka posted identical start times of 5.64 seconds and runs of 1:07.87 and 1:07.70 for a combined time of 2:15.57.
Only two nations were granted three sleds in the 2010 Olympic women’s bobsled competition. Germany locked up the first spot earlier in the season based on points, but the second nation to qualify a third sled came down to a battle between Canadian Amanda Stepenko and U.S. pilot Schaaf, who secured her Olympic berth with two solid runs in St. Moritz.
“Today’s race was won by only one-hundredth of a second,” Rohbock said. “The competition is definitely picking up as we get closer to February. Every week is a challenge, and next month won’t get any easier. I’m excited that we qualified three sleds, because I think all of us are competitive and have a chance to do well.
“I’m a little nervous going into the Olympics because I think the Germans are gaining momentum. Their push times are getting faster, they have aerodynamic sleds, and they will be tough to beat. But you never know what will happen at the Olympics. It’s always unpredictable.”
(Tim Hipps is the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Olympic correspondent. U.S.Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, who serves at the National Guard Bureau, contributed to this article.)