EUGENE, Ore., — The U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program will send what it describes as its strongest contingent of athletes and coaches to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Eleven WCAP coaches and athletes have already qualified to participate.
WCAP provides Soldier-athletes the support and training needed to successfully compete in Olympic sports on the national and international levels, including the winter and summer Olympics, Pan American Games, world championships and Conseil International du Sport Militaire’s Military World Games.
The Soldier-athletes serve as ambassadors for the Army by promoting it to the world and assisting with recruiting and retention efforts. Since 1948, more than 600 Soldiers have represented the United States as Olympic athletes and coaches. They have collected more than 140 medals in a variety of sports, including boxing, wrestling, rowing, shooting, bobsled and track and field.
WCAP wrestling head coach Shon Lewis, a retired staff sergeant who has led the Army to 11 national team titles in Greco-Roman wrestling, will lead three of his wrestlers to London as an assistant coach for Team USA.
As a WCAP athlete, Lewis, 45, of Oakland, Calif., is a 12-time armed forces champion and a 10-time national team member. He was named Greco-Roman Coach of the Year five times by USA Wrestling, the governing body for wrestling in the United States.
Two-time Olympian Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers, 37, of Kings Mountain, N.C., will wrestle in the 120-kilogram/264.5-pound Greco-Roman division. A world champion in 2002, Byers, a 10-time national champion, is the only U.S. wrestler who has won gold, silver and bronze medals at the world championships. He also is the only American wrestler to win gold at both the open and military world championships.
Spc. Justin Lester is a strong medal contender in the 66-kilogram/145.5 pound Greco-Roman division. Lester, 28, a native of Akron, Ohio, heads to England as USA Wrestling’s reigning Greco-Roman Wrestler of the Year. A two-time bronze medalist at the world championships, Lester has more than ample motivation to succeed in London.
“I’ve had two bronze medals, and they’re all right, but I need an Olympic gold medal,” he said. “That’s eating at me more than anything, that I don’t have that gold medal.”
Two-time Olympian Sgt. Spenser Mango, 25, of St. Louis, will compete in the 55-kilogram/121-pound Greco-Roman class. A four-time national champion, Mango is eager to return to the Olympics.
“The first time, I’ll admit, I was surprised myself,” Mango recalled of his Olympic debut in Beijing. “I knew I could do it, but I hadn’t done it yet. This time, it’s all business – need to bring home some medals. I’ve wrestled almost all the top guys in the world in my weight class. I know what I need to do – just get out there and really get after it.”
Four-time Olympian Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski, 44, of Saginaw, Mich., will compete in both the 50-meter free pistol and 10-meter air pistol. He struck gold with the air pistol and silver with the free pistol at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Szarenski finished 13th at the Olympics in Athens, Greece, in 2004 and 13th in Beijing in 2008. He’s aiming for a shot at the podium in London.
“I’m hoping to keep wearing them down and get in there and get a medal out of it,” Szarenski said. “I think the training regimen that I have now is a lot better than what it was in the past. I’ve changed a couple technical issues and I think I’m heading in the right direction. I feel that I’m shooting the best now than I’ve ever shot.”
Two-time Olympian Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson, 37, of San Antonio, will compete in the 25-meter rapid-fire pistol event. He set an Olympic record during the qualification rounds in Beijing but left China without a medal. He hopes to improve upon that fifth-place result in London.
“I remember the excitement,” Sanderson said. “That was more than I was ready for. It’s faded a little bit, but I remember it was awesome. It was more than I could control. I’m looking forward to feeling that again . . . It was something that words can’t describe and to this day, words can’t describe it. I didn’t sleep for two or three days after I competed – not a wink – from all of the adrenalin.”
Four-time Olympian Maj. David Johnson, 48, of Hampton, Va., has coached three athletes to Olympic medals and led shooters to 25 medals in World Cup events. He will again coach Team USA’s rifle shooters in London.
Two-time Olympian Staff Sgt. John Nunn, 34, of Evansville, Ind., already qualified for the 50-meter race walk.
Nunn competed in the 20-kilometer event at the 2004 Olympics in Athens but did not make Team USA for the 2008 Beijing Games. His personal best in the 20K race walk is 1 hour, 22 minutes, 31 seconds.
Spc. Dennis Bowsher, 29, of Dallas, will compete in modern pentathlon, a five-sport event that includes fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping, cross country and laser pistol shooting all in the same day. Bowsher finished fourth in both the 2011 Military World Games in Rio de Janeiro and the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, where he secured an Olympic berth.
Staff Sgt. Charles Leverette, 39, of Brent, Ala., will serve as Team USA’s assistant boxing coach in London. A former WCAP heavyweight boxer, Leverette was a bronze medalist at the 2004 U.S. Olympic boxing team trials.
Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman, 32, of Eloy, Ariz., will serve as the trainer and help work the corners for Team USA’s boxers in London. As a WCAP boxer, Guzman was a three-time armed forces champion.
Four-time Olympian Basheer Abdullah, a retired staff sergeant and head coach of the WCAP boxing team from St. Louis, will serve as Team USA’s head boxing coach in London. He also led the U.S. boxing team in the 2004 Athens games and served as a technical advisor for Team USA at the Olympics in 2000 and 2008.
Several other WCAP Soldiers are vying for Olympic berths at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team trials here.
WCAP also features a paralympic program for wounded warriors and expects to qualify at least one Soldier for the London Paralympic Games. Sights are set on qualifying several more for the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.