When the U.S. Olympic team parades into the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia Friday, there will be six active-duty members of the U.S. Army among them.
The Olympians come from the Army’s World-Class Athlete Program
(WCAP), which “pays them to train full time and, in return, they host clinics for soldiers and act as goodwill ambassadors for the Army and the United States at international games,” according to the Army.
To be selected to the WCAP program, soldiers must be in good military standing and compete in a recognized Olympic sport. It is open to both officers and enlisted service men and women, including those on active duty as well as those serving in the Army Reserve or National Guard, provided they have completed basic Army entry requirements. If selected, reserve and National Guard members will be brought into active duty.
Once in the program, the athletes will receive “elite level training from some of the best coaches and trainers in America,” according to the website.
For sports like boxing, taekwondo and wrestling, the Army has its own training facilities, but for other sports, WCAP participants may be assigned to locations near Olympic training facilities.
While the athletes benefit from the training, the Army gets excellent recruitment tools. In addition to their training duties, the WCAP members “support the U.S. Army Recruiting Command mission by conducting clinics and making appearances at high schools and colleges,” according the website.
This year’s WCAP contingent is made up of bobsledders and lugers.
Capt. Chris Fogt, a member of the bobsled team, says the military experience helps in his athletic endeavors.
"I try to apply the warrior ethos and mentality of never quitting or accepting defeat in my training and competitions,” he said in a statement. “Being a Soldier-athlete helps keep me focused and working hard because I am representing more than just my team and myself. I’m representing the most powerful and respected organization in the world. I need to reflect that in the way I present myself, train, and perform."
Fogt competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics, and then deployed to Iraq for a year, according to his bio. He resumed his Olympic training in 2011.
His fellow bobsledder, Sgt. Nicholas Cunningham, said he was proud to be able to represent the U.S. both as a soldier and athlete.
Other members of the team include Sgt. Justin Olsen, who won Olympic gold in 2010 as part of the four-man bobsled team; Sgt. Dallas Robinson, a bobsledder; Sgt. Preston Griffall, a luger; and Sgt. Matt Mortensen, also a luger.
Another WCAP participant, SSgt. Jen Lee, will represent the U.S. in the 2014 Paralympics as a goalie in sled hockey.
Since the WCAP program started in 1997, 55 soldier-athletes have participated in the summer and winter Olympic Games, many having medaled, according to the Army.
None of the other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces have athletes participating in Sochi.
The International Olympic Committee said they didn’t have data about other countries sending members of their militaries to the winter gamesi.
The U.S. team at Sochi is comprised of 230 athletes.