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Maggie Hendricks

Soldier-athletes in the Olympic Games

Fourth-Place Medal

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With all apologies to Kellen Winslow, Jr., there are athletes who are actually soldiers, and you will see them in Beijing. The World Class Athletic Program, run by the U.S. Army and Air Force, prepares soldiers who show athletic promise to be Olympic contenders.

WCAP recognizes elite athletes and gives them resources and support to continue their training while also continuing their military career. Only the best athletes are chosen for WCAP. They must be ranked highly in their sport, and be likely to qualify for the Olympics. The WCAP has training centers in wrestling, boxing, and modern pentathlon, though athletes compete on behalf of the Armed Forces in many sports.

Though these soldiers are exceptional athletes, they are soldiers first. WCAP baseball player Major Steve Reich was killed in Afghanistan when his special operations helicopter was shot down. Sgt. Iris Smith, a women's wrestling World Champion in 2005, missed the 2001 World Championships because she was in basic training.

Two soldier-athletes to watch for during the Beijing Olympics are Staff Sgt. Dremiel Byers, an Olympic hopeful in Greco Roman wrestling, and Capt. Eli Bremer in modern pentathlon. Byers, who will compete at the Olympic Trials this coming weekend, won a Bronze medal at the 2007 World Championships, and is a favorite to come home with hardware from Beijing. Bremer earned his spot on the Olympic team after finishing 12th at the World Championships, and winning a gold medal at the Pan-American Games.

Photo via US Presswire

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