Cover Story: Military Olympians bound for Tokyo

Army WCAP

The Tokyo Summer Olympics are finally happening this month, after being delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite barring spectators for safety reasons, the Games will continue as planned. And, in keeping with tradition, our U.S. military will be represented: three coaches and 17 of the 614 American athletes competing this time are military members. 

Twelve of these soldiers are part of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which affords servicemembers the chance to train and compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. They will compete in boxing, modern pentathlon, shooting, taekwondo, track and field, and wrestling. The three coaches are also from WCAP. The other five soldiers representing Team USA belong to the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. 

“It is a big honor to be a part of this, especially with our team being all Soldier-athletes,” said Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Bowsher, an 11-time World Team member who will coach the pentathlon team. “It is great to represent Team USA and the U.S. Army at this stage.” 

Bowsher will coach WCAP soldiers Sgt. Samantha Schultz and Sgt. Amro Elgeziry. Schulz is a five-time USA Modern Pentathlon National Champion from Colorado. Elgeziry’s brother competed in modern pentathlon in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and inspired him to switch to the sport from swimming.

“This is a tremendous honor; it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said two-time Olympian Staff Sgt. Spenser Mango. He will coach on the Team USA wrestling delegation, which includes Sgt. Ildar Hafizov and Spc. Alejandro Sancho. These soldier-athletes will compete in Greco-Roman wrestling. Hafizo joined the Army in 2015 and was an Olympic alternate in 2016. Sancho began wrestling at 15, and he says Greco-Roman became his favorite “because I could throw people on their heads.” 

“It means a lot to me to compete for the United States,” Sancho told Stars and Stripes. “My family is very proud of me. I am happy to represent not only the United States but the men and women who serve our country.”

Sgt. Terrence Jennings will be the assistant Taekwondo coach. The Virginia native joined the Army in 2016 and was an Olympic alternate that year. He became a coach in 2018. He was the Team Coach at the World Championships and the Pan American Games Qualifier.

Army Ssg. Naomi Graham Olympics
Ssg. Naomi Graham will be the first female military
member to represent our country in boxing for the
2021 Tokyo Olympic Games

First Female Boxer From the Military
In boxing, one soldier will make history: Ssg. Naomi Graham (pictured, left) will be the first female active-duty U.S. service member to box for gold. Graham grew up in Fayetteville, NC and enlisted in 2013, only a year after her sister introduced her to boxing. She was a AIBA World Championships Middleweight Bronze Medalist and U.S. National Middleweight Champion.

"The military teaches you to be adaptable in any situation, and I believe I take that into the ring," Graham said on Fox News. "Because any style I see, I immediately adapt as soon as I see something that needs to be adjusted.

“Being a Soldier-athlete means everything to me. [On] both sides I get to show what a leader looks like. I get to mentor on both sides and people look up to me on both sides. I feel I have knowledge to share on both sides that can help someone in the future.”

The other soldiers competing in this year’s Olympic games are Staff Sgt. Sandra Uptagrafft, 1st Lt. Amber English, Staff Sgt. Nickolaus Mowrer, Sgt. John Wayne Joss, Staff Sgt. Kevin Nguyen, Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Marks, Spc. Benard Keter, Sgt. Philip Jungman, Spc. Alison Weisz, Spc. Sagen Maddalena, Sgt. Patrick Sunderman, and 1st Lt. Sam Kendricks.

Finally, other notables make an interesting backstory for the games. Simone Biles, an Olympic Gold Medalist and daughter of an Air Force Veteran, will go for the gold again in gymnastics. Donna de Varona, a two-time gold medalist, longtime Olympics broadcaster and Veterans Advantage Advisory Board member, will be covering the games once again this year.

The Tokyo Olympics will run from July 23-August 8, 2021.

From Our Member Community

Military & Veterans Life Cover Story: 57 Years Later, Reflections on the Olympics and Post-War Tokyo The global pandemic that reshaped how we function and interact as humans left no corner of the world untouched. Every aspect of our lives changed on the personal level, but the cancellation or disruption of seemingly invincible cultural touchstones like the Olympics served as stunning reminders of the uncertain times we all endured. An event that intertwines and invigorates the world once every four years is needed now more than ever after a period of such isolating international disconnect and despair. After countless fits and starts threatened to condemn the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as collateral damage of the pandemic, we will soon get to enjoy what the Japanese refer to as the “Recovery Games” After all, Japan won the right to host the Olympics on July 16, 2011 just months after 18,000 Japanese lost their lives during the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

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