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19 Military Athletes to Represent U.S. at Tokyo Olympics

July 12, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Seventeen soldiers, one Marine and one Coast Guardsman have earned spots in the delayed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The games, which were postponed last year due to COVID-19, will be held from July 23 to August 8.

Earlier this year, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John Stefanowicz defeated the country's top rated 87-kilogram Greco-Roman wrestler to earn a spot in this year's games.

Two men practice wrestling skills on a yellow mat.
Wrestling Moves
Marine Corps Capt. Peyton Walsh, top, and Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John Stefanowicz, bottom, with the All-Marine Wrestling Team, hone their wrestling techniques in preparation for the Olympic Trials, on Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., Jan. 8, 2021.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Christian Ayers
VIRIN: 210108-O-D0439-001

"Being able to represent the USA on an international level while being in the Marine Corps is the highest honor that I have ever felt. It is something that is almost indescribable. I have finally accomplished this mission that has had an insurmountable amount of adversity, that has required years and decades of perseverance," he said.

"This could not be possible without the support I have had from my team and coach," Stefanowicz said. "The struggles that we have had to overcome as a team have made us all stronger, and in particular, coach Jason Loukides has helped transform me into the person and Marine that I am today."

Coast Guard Lt. Nikole "Nikki" Barnes will compete in the Women's 470-class sailboat category.

A sail boat sails through choppy blue water.
Sailboat Trainng
Members of Coast Guard Sector Miami train for the USA Women's 470-class sailboat category in Miami, March 1, 2020.
Photo By: Coast Guard courtesy photo
VIRIN: 200301-G-GO107-1172

"I fell in love with the Coast Guard. I am always on the water and the allure of creating a safer environment for fellow boaters was a big intrigue for me. As I have been in the Coast Guard, I have seen even more how this is a tremendous organization of people working hard to make a safer maritime environment," she said.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks will compete in Paralympic swimming's 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter butterfly, 200-meter individual medley and 100-meter backstroke. 

In 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she won a gold medal in the Paralympic Games in the 100-meter breaststroke and a bronze in the 100 meter medley.

A female swimming athlete sits next to a pool.
Paralympic Swimming
Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks competes in Paralympic swimming in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Mars Jason Barber
VIRIN: 160802-O-D0439-001

Marks enlisted in the Army in 2008 as a combat medic. She was injured while serving in Iraq and was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas for recovery. It was there, she said, that she fell in love with swimming, which was used as a form of therapy.

Like most of the soldier-athletes going to the Olympics, Marks is a member of the Army's World Class Athlete Program, a program which enables soldiers with athletic potential to receive professional coaching, while keeping current with Army military occupational specialty and training requirements.

Although Marks said she trained hard to compete and to win, "none of it would have been possible without my brothers and sisters in the military believing in me and pushing me to do so."

Athletes Headed for Tokyo

Army

1st Lt. Amber English – women's skeet

Staff Sgt. Naomi Graham – women's boxing, 75 kilogram category

A boxer throws a punch at another boxer in a boxing ring.
Boxing Punch
Army Staff Sgt. Naomi Graham throws a right to the chin of Briana Che during a USA Nationals bout during the first week of December 2018 in Salt Lake City.
Photo By: Army courtesy photo
VIRIN: 181208-O-D0439-001

Staff Sgt. Nickolaus Mowrer – 10m air pistol, men; 10m air pistol, mixed team; and 50m rifle, 3 positions.

Staff Sgt. Sandra Uptagrafft – 10m air pistol, women; 10m air pistol, mixed team; and 25m sport pistol. 

Sgt. Samantha Schultz – modern pentathlon

Sgt. Amro Elgeziry – modern pentathlon

Sgt. Ildar Hafizov – Greco-Roman wrestling, 60 kg category

Spc. Alejandro Sancho – Greco-Roman wrestling, 67 kg category

Spc. Benard Keter – 3,000-meter steeplechase, track and field

Sgt. Patrick Sunderman – men's smallbore rifle

Spc. Sagen Maddalena – women's smallbore rifle

Spc. Alison Weisz – women's air rifle

Sgt. Philip Jungman – men's skeet

1st Lt. Sam Kendricks - pole vaulting

Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks – Paralympic swimming in 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter butterfly, 200-meter individual medley and 100-meter backstroke

Staff Sgt. John Joss – Paralympic shooting, 50m rifle

Staff Sgt. Kevin Nguyen – Paralympic shooting, 50m rifle

Marine Corps

Staff Sgt. John Stefanowicz – Greco-Roman wrestling, 87 kg category

Coast Guard

Lt. Nikole Barnes – 470-class sailboat category

Men in athletic gear shoot guns during a pentathlon competition.
Pentathlon Competition
Army Sgt. Amro Elgeziry takes aim during the men’s individual run/shoot event at the 2018 Modern Pentathlon World Cup in Los Angeles.
Photo By: Army Maj. Nathaniel Garcia
VIRIN: 210322-A-ON894-010

Brief History of Olympics

The ancient Olympic Games were held every four years in Olympia, Greece, beginning in 776 BC. The games featured running, a pentathlon, boxing, wrestling, pankration and equestrian events. The Olympic Games ended sometime between 393 AD and 426 AD, when the Romans gained power and influence in Greece.

The first modern Olympic Game, under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee, took place in Athens, Greece in 1896.

There were 280 athletes from 13 nations, including the United States, competing in 43 events. The United States took the most gold medals (11), followed by Greece (10) and Germany (6).

Although U.S. military members did not compete in the 1896 games, several who won gold medals later joined the military. Among those were:

  • John Paine, sport shooter, joined the Army and served during the Spanish-American War.
  • James Brendan Connolly, triple jump, joined the Army Corps of Engineers and served during the Spanish-American War.
  • Thomas Burke, 100-meter sprint and 400-meter sprint, served in the Army during World War I.
  • Thomas Curtis, 110 meter hurdles, served in the Massachusetts National Guard during World War I.

In 1924, the Winter Olympic Games were added. The Paralympics were added in 1948.

Since the 1896 Olympics, many members of the U.S. military have participated in the summer and winter games as well as the Paralympics and many have medaled.