Throughout the history of the Olympic Games, there have been many veterans, family members of veterans, and active duty military members who have participated in these fabled competitions, and Rio 2016 is no exception. Some of the athletes with military backgrounds include Decathlete Ashton Eaton, Distance Track and Field Athlete Shadrack Kipchirchir, Gymnast Gabby Douglas, and Paralympic Swimmer Brad Snyder.
Ashton Eaton, Brother of Sgt. Verice Bennett, Marine Corps
With the Rio Summer Games beginning on August 5, Ashton Eaton is considered the best pure athlete representing the U.S. In the 2012 London Olympic Games, he won the Decathlon with 8,869 points. He also broke a world record in the Decathlon with 9,045 points in Beijing. For those unfamiliar with the Decathlon, it consists of 10 track and field events split into two days: 100-meter sprint, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter sprint, 110-meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and 1500 meter sprint.
Although Eaton is known for his ability to excel in these challenging athletic events, many do not know he is the half-brother of Verice Bennett, a first sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. Bennett received the Silver Star in December 2011 for serving with valor in Afghanistan. As Ashton looks to become only the third person to become a two-time gold medalist in the Decathlon, he draws inspiration from his special kinship with Bennett.
"We've gotten pretty close. He was the best man in my wedding. He has been a big influence in the sense that it's cool to talk to somebody who thinks the same as you," he told the Portland Tribune last December.
"He has a lot of experience in life. He has had to take people's lives. He has had people's lives taken in his own arms. He has his own kids. He has a lot of energy and passion for life. He is positive in spite of all the things he has experienced," he added.
Gabby Douglas, Daughter of Air Force Veteran
Gabby Douglas became the face of the 2012 London Olympic Games for her phenomenal gymnastic performance; she is the first African American Woman to win the individual all-around competition. She also won the gold in the team competition, alongside teammates McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, and Jordyn Wieber.
Douglas has ties to the military, as her father is a Staff Sergeant in the Air National Guard. Watch for Gabby in this year's Games, as she tries to add to what is already a historic Olympic career.
"My mental game is stronger this time," Douglas told the Washington Post. "I believe in my ability more. I'm so confident when I go out there that I'm letting things flow instead of muscling them."
At press time, 47 New York Athletic Club athletes have qualified for the Games in Rio. Sports include Fencing, Judo, Modern Pentathlon, Track & Field, Triathlon, Water Polo, Wrestling, and Rowing. Although we only had space to highlight a few of the Olympic athletes linked by military service, they are an inspiration to us all. Be sure to root for them and the U.S. in the 2016 Rio Olympics, beginning next month!