07/23/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/23/2021 10:26
Photo by:U.S. Army/Maj. Nathaniel Garcia
Twelve soldier-athletes and three coaches who serve in the Army are among those who will compete in the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo.
At least 541 soldiers have been selected for the Summer or Winter Olympic teams since the World Class Athlete Program was founded by the Army in 1948. In that time, soldier-athletes have amassed at least 131 Olympic medals in various sports, according to DoD.
The WCAP trains the most elite soldier-athletes from the active Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics.
Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks, the Army's first Paralympic swimmer, said in an Army news release that her fellow service members inspired her to compete.
'I am honored to represent my country and the U.S. Army,' Marks said. 'None of this would be possible without my brothers and sister in the military. I never thought I could [pursue] something like this, and they pushed me to try.'Marks will compete in the 100-meter backstroke, 50-meter butterfly, 200-meter individual medley and the 50-meter freestyle events at the Paralympic Games, which begin Aug. 24.
The Olympics began July 23.
For Spc. Alejandro Sancho, the child of Cuban immigrants, qualifying to wrestle in the Olympics' 67 kg Greco-Roman event was the culmination of a lifelong dream.'It's every kid's dream to make the Olympic team,' Sancho said. 'I've always had that ambition since I was a child. It just made it so much more sweet. And having my family there was so emotional. They knew … how much work I put into making this team.' Sgt. Ildar Hafizov, Sancho's teammate, immigrated to the U.S. in 2014 from Uzbekistan with his wife and daughter. He sees this summer's games as a way to give back to the country that took him in.
'It's a moment of joy-pride and joy,' Hafizov said. 'So now I can give back to the U.S. They have given me opportunities to wrestle and represent the Army and represent the United States. I am happy to give back.'In addition to the 12 soldier-athletes who have been selected to compete in the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, three Army coaches were named Team USA coaches for the games. Staff Sgt. Spenser Mango, a two-time Olympian who will coach WCAP wrestlers, called coaching 'a tremendous honor' and said 'it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.'
Sgt. Terrence Jennings, an Olympic medalist who joined the WCAP as a soldier-athlete in 2016, will coach taekwondo.
'It will be great to be there, show the world the Army from the inside and that we have programs like WCAP,' Jennings said. 'We work with soldiers who chase their dreams. We want to win for our team and the U.S. Army.'
Soldiers competing and coaching during this summer's games are:
For more information about the World Class Athlete Program, click here.