Military and the Olympics

Becoming a Military Olympian

WASHINGTON -- Many athletes dream of standing atop an Olympic medal podium. However, without the necessary support, even the slightest chance of that happening is a long shot.

Military athletes can find that support within their respective services. Though none of the services' programs are the same, there are similarities.

The Army and Air Force each have two sports programs available to serious athletes.

The Army's All-Army (Sports Program) chooses a number of athletes for any of about 20 sports and sends them to a three-week trial camp, said Karen White, chief of the Army Sports, Fitness and World Class Athlete Program. If they make the cut there, they become a member of the All-Army team for their given sport.

The All-Army team then competes in the Armed Forces championships. Performance at this level decides placement on the All-Service team, which competes international military championships organized by the Conseil International du Sport Militaire, or better known as CISM.

According to Air Force sports chief Steve Brown, the Air Force Sports Program is nearly identical. Athletes are selected from a pool of applications to attend a training camp and, upon selection, join an All-Air Force team. With skill and luck, it's on to the All-Service team and CISM competitions.

Both services also run a World Class Athlete Program designed to help nationally ranked athletes train toward a goal of competing in the Olympics.

Duration and location are the two biggest differences between the services' programs.

The Army allows for a training period of three years prior to the Olympics. Air Force athletes are limited to two years. As for location, the Army WCAP is located at Fort Carson, Colo., near the Olympic training site, while the Air Force lets athletes train where it's best for them.

The Navy and the Marine Corps' support structures for athletes are quite different from those of the Army and Air Force. Neither has a WCAP, nor do they actively recruit athletes.

For the Navy, once an athlete is identified as being of Olympic caliber, he or she must request a special assignment consideration, John Hickok, head of Navy sports, said. Upon approval of special assignment, the program tries to relocate the athlete to a location beneficial for training purposes. Training usually begins about 18 months before the Games.

If a Marine Corps athlete is invited by a sport's national governing body to participate at a training center, he or she then becomes a member of the corps' National Caliber Athlete Program, Steve Dinote, director of Marine Corps sports, said.

A Marine athlete is not allowed to train for more than three and a half years without returning to the fleet, Dinote said.

Training expenses are always a concern for an athlete. And all four services offer some type of financial assistance to their athletes. That assistance is usually in the form of entry fees, transportation and lodging associated with competition to advance their goals.

"If you're saying you're going to support (athletes), then you have to support them with the minimum to make the team," White said.

If a sport's national governing body taps an athlete for training, that concern over training costs becomes less urgent.

Each service has at least one athlete qualified to participate in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, which begin Aug 13.