Cover Story: Military Olympians, World Class Performance in London 2012
WeSalute (founded as Veterans Advantage)
The sun set on the Olympic Games in London last week, closing the curtain once again on a global celebration of athletic excellence. As always, thousands of extremely talented individuals demonstrated the discipline, work ethic and sense of purpose that comes with representing one’s country – while America continues to maintain a uniquely high standard when world-class athletics is combined with military service.
According the U.S. Department of Defense, 16 very dedicated Americans – athletes and coaches – appeared in London while still serving on Active Duty. They represented six different sporting venues: shooting, fencing, boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, track and field and the modern pentathlon. Through programs such as the Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), in particular, high-level military athletes receive support to achieve their sports goals and represent our nation, a continued commitment by our military despite the demands of war. Similar programs are organized by the Air Force’s own World Class Athlete Program, as well as others by the Navy and Marines.
Topping the list of headliners is Army Sgt. Vincent Hancock, who became the first shotgun shooter to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in men’s skeet at the Royal Artillery Barracks, breaking his previous 2008 records at the Beijing Games.
And beyond the 16, military influence appeared in a range of other sports. America’s most noteworthy Olympic Vet, West Point’s own Mike Krzyzewski, solidified gold medal status for the men’s basketball team, as it defeated Spain. The restoration of USA Basketball comes after America took bronze in 2004, a painful fall from grace from the standard set by the famous “Dream Team” performance in 1992. Since then, Coach K’s leadership brought two consecutive gold medals.
ALL IN THE FAMILY:
Family members of those linked by service brought home the gold, too, including:
Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas: Gymnastics.
An inspiring story of overcoming the struggles faced by our post-9/11 military, Gabby Douglas burst on the world stage as a double-gold medal winning gymnast. Despite her family’s financial hardship and pressures brought by her dad’s service in the Air Force, Gabby’s lifelong devotion to gymnastics finally paid off in London.
In fact, very early on, Gabby’s strength and resolve was already recognized within military circles. Our Military Kids, a national nonprofit organization, awarded a grant to Douglas in 2006, to attend an elite gymnastics camp while her father was deployed to the Middle East.
“Gabby demonstrated what strength and perseverance can achieve for military children across the country,” said Linda Davidson, executive director of Our Military Kids. To date, Our Military Kids has awarded 38,000 grants totaling more than $15 million.
Jamie Gray, 50-Meter Rifle
The wife of U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit shooter, Jamie Gray won an Olympic gold medal in the women’s 50-meter rifle 3-positions event at the Royal Artillery Barracks. Her husband is Staff Sgt. Hank Gray.
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program rifle coach Maj. Dave Johnson, who leads Team USA’s rifle shooters in London, coached Gray to the victory. Gray established Olympic records in the qualification and final portions of the event, which includes shooting from prone, standing and kneeling positions.
Kristin Armstrong, Cycling.
Sure, one of the most famous names in American cycling is Armstrong, but there’s a woman by that same name who can lay claim to Olympic gold. Kristin Armstrong, no relation to Lance, won her second gold for the Women’s Cycling Individual Time Trial.
Armstrong, a onetime triathlete who traveled a lot as a military brat, more recently attended middle school in Havelock, NC, where her Marine Corps father served in the Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point.
Armstrong thought she was finished after winning the world championship in 2009, but returned to the saddle after delivering a son, Lucas, in 2010. That was only one challenge, as Armstrong also had to overcome a broken collarbone earlier in the season.
Janay DeLoach, Long Jump
Meanwhile on the track, Jenay DeLoach took the bronze in the Women’s Long Jump. Behind her every step of the way are her proud military parents. Her father, William is a retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant who served our nation for 30 years.
“My dad’s here with me, cheering me on,” DeLoach said, as reported by the Army News Service. “He’s been there the whole way through. … He’s always supported me in all my endeavors.”
"Her dad was a role model for her. He worked different shifts and she saw that he was supporting his family. As a family, we all had to support dad because that was his livelihood. She saw those values and standards modeled before her," said her mother, Dede, who works in Strategic Planning and Compensation Management for the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, in a recent news article posted on the base website. Janay briefly worked in the Edwards Commissary to save money for college.
And like so many military children, she is also well travelled -- From Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., where she was born, to Hill AFB, Utah; Eielson AFB, Ala.; until she eventually arrived at Edwards AFB before going off to college at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colo.