Check out some of the awesome Team USA Olympians- who also happen to be servicemembers!
Event: 5,000 meter
Competing: August 17
Kenyan-born Chelimo is one of several of this year's crop of American Olympians who used the military's fast track-to-citizenship program. He immigrated to the U.S. and Rome, Ga., in 2010, where he helped lead the Shorter University track and field team to an NAIA National Championship. Then in 2011 he moved to the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where he started out his season undefeated through his first four meets and ended up a five-time All-American.
Kenyans long have dominated the sport of long-distance running, but this year several Kenyan transplants will be racing for their newly adopted country, including Chelimo and fellow military Olympians Hillary Bor, Leonard Kirir, and Shadrack Kipchirchir. Each followed a similar path to citizenship, racing in college and then finding a home in the Army's World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which lets them train full-time, receive coaching from some of their sport's top coaches, and travel the globe as an ambassador for the military. Bor was naturalized as a citizen in 2013, but each of the others was eligible for citizenship earlier than they would've been without military service.
To get to Rio, Chelimo finished third in the 5,000-meter run at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., with a time of 13 minutes and 36 seconds, which equates to 3.1 miles at around a 4:20 mile pace. Chelimo led the pack into the final straightaway but was passed by five-time Olympian Bernard Lagat. “When I got to like 50 meters to go,” Chelimo said in an Army press release, “The bear grabbed on my back. I tried pushing but my legs gave up. … I didn't have enough to finish strong, but I made the team, and that was the big goal.”
Event: Modern Pentathlon
Competing: August 18
Army Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher was the very first American athlete to book his ticket to Rio when he came in third in the field at the Pan American Games July 19, 2015. In Rio. he'll compete in one of the more unusual sports in the Olympics, but nothing about Schrimsher has ever been all that normal. He grew up homeschooled but had enough college credits when he graduated to be a college sophomore. He also grew up on a cattle ranch near Roswell, N.M., which is where his swim coach introduced him to the modern pentathlon. That coach was former Polish Olympian Jan Olesinski, who began to train Schrimsher and his brother, both of whom took to the sport immediately.
The modern pentathlon is neither modern nor a true pentathlon (which comes from the Greek for “five events”), as it was invented by the founder of the Olympic games in 1912 and only has four events-fencing, show jumping (with an “unfamiliar horse”), a 200-meter swim, and a combination run and pistol shoot.
Schrimsher's military status is apropos for the sport, which was originally designed to be a test of athlete's well-rounded military prowess-in 1912, of course, fencing and equestrian abilities were much more central to a soldier's ability to fight than they are today.
“It's amazing to be a soldier and compete for the United States,” said Schrimsher in an article posted to the Team USA website. “It's a big name we wear as athletes and I just want to represent it as best I can.”
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Event: 50K Race Walk
Competing: August 19
When Staff Sgt. John Nunn steps onto the track in the summer heat of Rio, he'll be the final military Olympian to do so, but he's been an Olympian since 2004-of this year's group of military athletes, only shotgun shooter Glenn Eller has been to more Games. Nunn competes in the 50K race walk, which is a sport he admits he initially laughed at.
“I got offered a scholarship for race walking to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside based on my run times,” he told Military Officer earlier this year. “They were offering full scholarships, which I initially thought was a joke. After I stopped laughing, I said 'I guess we'll give it a try.' ”
Nunn is a member of the Army's World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), but unlike many of the active duty WCAP athletes, he's an Army reservist, which means when the Games are over, he'll go back to finishing up college and running the cookie business he shares with his daughter. As a WCAP athlete, though, he gets put on yearlong active duty orders leading up to an Olympic cycle.
“I get orders for a year, and then based on my performance within the program, those orders can get extended, as long as you're hitting the benchmarks that enable your program to see that you're on your way to making another Olympic team,” Nunn says. “But as soon as Rio is over, I'll be released from the program.”
For Nunn, the experience of being an Olympian is only amplified by the fact that he represents the U.S. military.
“The best thing about being a WCAP athlete is just the support-knowing that there are so many people that are behind you. It's completely different than in the civilian world. I have friends in the track and field community that are sponsored, by shoe companies or things like that, but this is not a sponsorship. We're members of the armed forces, and knowing there are literally millions of people behind you, and you're wearing this big Army across your chest-it's a huge motivating factor.”
Event: 10,000 meter run
Spc. Shadrack Kipchirchir's list of accomplishments on his official bio is small, but that's because he had never even run competitively before moving to the U.S. in 2009 to attend Western Kentucky University. He was an all-American that first year. By his senior year in 2014, he was a silver medalist in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA college finals. In 2015 he attended his first World Championships, but only came in 16th. And this year he completed his meteoric rise to the top of the running world, placing second at the U.S. Time Trials, which along with his qualifying time at the Stanford Invitational put him on his first Olympic team.
Kipchirchir joined the Army after college in October 2014 with his eyes on the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which he quickly was accepted into. He also quickly embraced the soldier mentality, which was reflected in his reaction to finding out he'd qualified for the Olympics.
“I put my hands to my face,” he says in a WCAP Facebook post, “And thought, Oh no, where is Leonard [WCAP teammate SPC Leonard Korir]. When I found out he made the Olympic team too, I thought, 'ok now we can celebrate!' ”
At the trials, Kipchirchir came in second to Galen Rupp, already a two-time Olympian and member of the Nike Oregon Project, which is a somewhat-controversial Nike effort to improve American long-distance running using extreme technology like hyperbolic chambers, and even a specially designed house that simulates high altitude training by removing oxygen from the air. Kipchirchir, on the other hand, relies on old-fashioned hard work and a clear embrace of the Army values.
Event: 10,000 meter run
Like his military Olympian teammates Shadrack Kipchirchir and Hillary Bor, Spc. Leonard Korir immigrated to the U.S. from Kenya for college. And like his good friend Kipchirchir, Korir was not a competitive runner prior to coming to the U.S. But during his time at Iona College, N.Y., Korir won two NCAA championships, in the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races.
Soon after college, he joined the Army, utilizing a program that fast-tracks military enlistees to citizenship. While most permanent residents (green card holders) have to wait five years before they can obtain citizenship, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has a program called the Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative that gives would-be American citizens who are willing to serve the opportunity to naturalize after Basic Training. For Korir, running was never far from his mind, though, and after Basic Training and his Advanced Individual Training as an 88M-Motor Transport Operator, he eventually applied and was accepted into the Army's World Class Athlete Program.
Also like Kipchirchir, Korir's time at the Olympic Trials in Portland alone did not qualify him for a trip to Rio, because it didn't meet the Olympic “A” standard for his event. In events like Korir's, athletes must beat a prescribed qualifying Olympic standard time during the year prior to the Games just to be eligible to be on the Olympic team. Fortunately, Korir and Kipchirchir both had gotten their qualifying score at the Stanford Invitational meet. Then they had to finish in the top three at the Olympic Trials. Korir came in third, 16.5 seconds behind Kipchirchir in second.
On the day of their race in Rio, the two friends will be competing, but through it all they will share the kind of bond built through service to their new country in sport and in their new profession. And they'll also share that passion for service with the thousands of soldiers around the world cheering them on.
Rank: Sergeant First Class
Event: 25-meter rapid fire pistol
Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson has been winning shooting competitions for almost as long as he's been in the military. He started his career as a Marine in 1993 at the ripe age of 17, and just three years later he launched his competitive shooting career. In an interview with USA Shooting's magazine he credited the Marines' emphasis on marksmanship for his entry into the shooting arts.
“We had these different tests, academic, physical fitness, swim qualification,” he said. “And I wanted to be the best. In the academic tests, it was easy to be perfect. Physical fitness, well, I was good at it, but I was at a genetic disadvantage. [But] shooting-I can do this. I can be better at this.”
After eight years as a Marine, including a stint as the Chief Marksmanship Instructor for Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Sanderson moved to the Army Reserve as an infantryman and eventually went on active duty as a member of the Army's World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), where he instructs other soldiers on fundamentals and advanced marksmanship techniques.
Sanderson started out as a rifle shooter, but when he picked up a pistol, he started winning more often than not. He now heads to Rio as the most decorated competitive pistol shooter in U.S. history - he's an eight-time World Cup medalist and has held a spot on the U.S. World Championship teams since 2005, winning the rapid-fire pistol national championship six times. He also holds the Olympic record for score in the qualification round of the 25-meter rapid-fire pistol, which he earned in 2008 at the Beijing Games.
Service: Air Force
Event: 50-meter prone rifle
Just a couple months after his Air Force Academy graduation, Cadet David Higgins will head south to Rio as the first active cadet ever to make a U.S. Olympic team. To achieve that feat, the San Clemente, Calif., native only beat out three-time Olympic medal winner Matt Emmons in the three-day Olympic trials. He did it in a gutsy, come-from-behind victory, outshooting Emmons (who came in second place in the trials and will accompany Higgins to the Games) on the final day by 22.6 points to pull out the victory.
The 22-year-old Higgins is the second-youngest athlete on the USA Olympic men's shooting team, after 21-year-old air rifler Lucas Kozeniesky. Most shooters take years to develop the poise and technique needed to be a top competitor, but Higgins got an early start. He took to the sport at the age of 13, quickly finding a distinct passion for the sport.
“I began to train nearly every day,” he says in his USA Shooting bio. “Which sometimes meant shooting my air rifle 10 meters from the living room, through the kitchen, and down the hallway into a pellet trap,” said Higgins. “Every Saturday morning, before I could drive, my parents would wake up around 4:30 to take me to matches that were over 100 miles away. As I got older, I was able to use my parents' cars and drive the hundreds of miles a week in order to train and compete.”
That dedication led to medals on the junior national level, which eventually set him up for his matchup against Emmons to make the Olympic squad.
Event: 50-meter prone rifle
Sgt. 1st Class Michael McPhail has been there and shot that, as he started shooting BB guns as a 5-year-old Wisconsinite and has been putting steel on target ever since. He'll also arrive in the summer Rio heat as a two-time Olympian, having come in ninth in his event at the 2012 London Olympic Games. He won his first World Cup medal 14 years ago and since then has racked up 39 more, including his gold in this year's ISSF competition in September in Munich. That win also made him the first shooter to qualify for Rio.
McPhail is one of several members of the elite U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) to make the U.S. Olympic team. The USAMU gives active duty Army soldiers like McPhail the opportunity to practice their sport full-time, training every day and traveling around the world to marksmanship competitions. That kind of familiarity with the pressure of international competition gives USAMU members a comfort level that is crucial to shooting success in major competitions. In exchange, the Army gets to capitalize on the knowledge birthed from shooting full-time, as USAMU soldiers put their expertise to use training hundreds of soldiers every year in the finer points of marksmanship, both at their Fort Benning, Ga., base, and around the world.
Having missed the final round of competition in the 2012 Games by an excruciating three-tenths of a point, McPhail knows firsthand how the smallest of margins can be the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, but goes into this year's Games riding the high of his win in Munich - his first in the 50-meter prone.
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Sport: Double Trap Shotgun
Staff Sergeant Richmond was born to be a shooter; his official USA Shooting bio says, "His father won him his first shotgun at a trap competition when Josh's mother was pregnant with him,” and also notes he shot his first shotgun when he was 5 years old. Richmond has been winning medals since 2005, when he won his first gold medal at the national championships. He's also been on the Olympic stage once before, missing out in 2008 but coming in 16th place overall in the 2012 London Games. That previous experience, combined with his position on the Army's U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) shooting demonstration team, should give him the invaluable experience needed to excel in a sport where millimeters and fractions of a degree make the difference between a hit and a miss. Richmond was recruited to join the USAMU and joined the Army in October of 2004, just before he won that first national championship. He also deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 as a member of a team of USAMU shooting specialists that spent time training members of the Afghan National Army in marksmanship fundamentals. To punch his ticket to Rio, Richmond won the double trap competition at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials for Shotgun, which were held in Tillar, Ark. In that competition he bested his fellow USAMU team member and previous Olympic gold medal winner Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Eller, who will also be shooting double trap in Brazil.
Sport: 10-meter Air Rifle, 50-meter Three Position Rifle
One of several members of the Army's Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) to make it onto Team USA heading to Rio, Specialist Lowe is a relative newcomer to the sport. He won U.S. Championship medals in all three rifle disciplines in 2014, though, proving he has what it takes to be a contender in the summer heat of Brazil. As a member of the USAMU, Lowe trains soldiers in the marksmanship fundamentals, which he says helped him prepare for a place on the world's stage. The USAMU also travels around the world to shooting competitions, completing a recruiting and retention mission for the Army, and like other full-time military athletes serving as examples to the civilian public of what servicemembers are capable of. Regularly performing under the high-stress environment of international shooting competitions as a member of USAMU also should help Lowe be calm under the extreme Olympic pressure. Lowe's events both involve firing elaborate air rifles, with the 10-meter version taking 60 shots, and the 50-meter three-position event requiring him to fire 40 shots each from the prone, standing, and kneeling positions (in that order.) Lowe will be shooting to surpass America's previous poor Olympic results in the 10-meter standing event. While Americans have medaled regularly in the three-position events, none has ever medaled in the standing version since it first was introduced at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.
Rank: Commissioned Officer
Event: Crewing Lightweight 4s
Don't let Kings floppy blonde hair fool you he's still an active duty Navy officer. He's no deck-swabber, either he's BUD/S (entry-level Navy SEAL training) qualified and currently on a leave of absence from his highly specialized (and classified) assignment at the Navy Information Operations Command at Fort Meade, Md.
Crewing is the technical term for rowing a word that would have been completely unknown to King as he grew up in rural Missouri, where crewing was as foreign as his South African birthplace. King's family came to the U.S. when he was still young, and he grew into a standout high school track and field star. It wasn't until he was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., that he was introduced to the sport that immediately captivated him.
"Hubbard Hall [boathouse] was a second home to me during my time at the Academy", King said in a NavySports.com release. "From the moment I walked onto the team as a freshman, I was welcomed with exactly what I was looking for a place to escape from the rest of the yard and push myself to my physical and mental limits. But it was the camaraderie of the team that was truly captivating for me." King grew into a star quickly he made the under-23 national team the summer after his sophomore year, after crewing for only two years due in no small part to his physical frame. He's 6'4 and weighs in at a muscly 160-165 pounds. That strength-to-weight ratio is especially important in King's position in the U.S. lightweight boat, where the four-man team must average 160 pounds, with no rower over 165. Despite the Naval Academy's position as one of the top crewing universities in the country, King will be the first Navy rower to compete in the Olympic Games since 1988.
Event: 3,000-meter Steeplechase
Army Sgt. Hillary Bor is a great example of how the American dream is alive and well having emigrated from Kenya with his family in 2007 to attend Iowa State University on a track scholarship. He and his two brothers, Emmanuel and Julius, all found success as long-distance runners in college, all three joined the U.S. Army after graduation, and all three ended up as members of the Army's World Class Athlete Program (WCAP). But of the three brothers, each of whom was a standout runner, Hillary Bor often came in first place. During his time in college, he earned four All-American titles, and as part of the WCAP running team, he placed first at the 2016 Armed Forces Championship (his brothers placed second and fifth). To gain his spot on the U.S. Olympic team, he came in second at the Olympic track and field trials with a time of 8:24.10.
Bor's event, the steeplechase, has been an Olympic sport since 1900 and is a long-distance race run on a track with a combination of regular hurdles and special hurdles followed by water obstacles. The sport originated in Ireland, where riders on horseback would race from steeple to steeple in neighboring towns, inevitably jumping over fences and rivers to do so. Bor runs the 3,000-meter steeplechase, the longest and most prestigious event in the sport.
He serves in the Army as a financial management technician and will face his stiffest competition from his former homeland, as athletes from Kenya historically have dominated the steeplechase, winning every gold medal since 1968, except for the two years the nation boycotted the games.
Rank: Sergeant First Class
Event: Shotgun - Double Trap
At the age of 34, Army Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Eller is a longtimer in more ways than one. He's been shooting guns since the age of 8 and has won more awards than he can count since then, including a gold medal in the 2008 double trap event. This will mark Eller's fifth Olympic Games, a remarkable feat for the active duty soldier. He's also a 10-year veteran of one of the most elite military shooting units in the world: the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU).
While he had always been interested in the military, it wasn't until he started training with the USAMU while at Auburn University in Alabama that the temptation to join the military hit. “The shooting actually got me interested in the Army,” said Eller in an interview with NBC Sports . “I started when I was about 8 years old, and it just kind of progressed toward that.” In the same interview, Eller said the prospect of being a part of the elite shooting unit is what sold him on a new life in the military. “We train day in, day out together. That was one of the main reasons I joined the Army because we are able to put four of the best double trap shooters, pretty much in the world, in one place. And for us to be able to train day in, day out together, we are able to push each other and come up with new training ideas that make us more effective.”
Eller has been a member of the USAMU for 10 years, representing both his country and his service in international competitions and teaching soldiers as a marksmanship instructor both at his home base of Fort Benning, Ga., and around the world. In 2012, he deployed to Afghanistan to teach marksmanship skills to soldiers in the Afghan National Army.
The double trap competition is similar to skeet shooting, where clay pigeons are launched in a certain trajectory. The main difference is the location of the “house” where the pigeons are launched. In double trap, two targets are launched simultaneously with shooters allowed to shoot only once at each target.
Service: Air Force
Rank: First Lieutenant
Event: Pole Vault
Air Force 1st Lt. Cale Simmons might be a master of one, but he is a jack-of-all-trades, as his official Team USA bio lists his interests as “skiing, rock climbing, skydiving, scuba diving, hiking, cliff diving, camping, longboarding, and playing Frisbee.” How he excels at all those activities in addition to a full time Air Force career and still has time to maintain his status as a world-class track and field star is anyone's guess, but it apparently has something to do with his upbringing. His twin brother and older sister also were standout pole vaulters at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Simmons' twin brother, Rob, is a first lieutenant in the Air Force and a C-17 pilot out of Joint Base Charleston, S.C. His sister, Rachael Schaefer, is an Air Force captain in the 27th Special Operations Wing.
Like his brother and sister, Cale Simmons graduated from the academy as a standout track and field star. After graduating in 2013, he was stationed in Germany. Despite not vaulting during his time there, Simmons never lost the bug for competition. So in August 2015, he jumped at the opportunity to join the Air Force's World Class Athlete Program, which enables its athletes to serve as some of the best examples of outstanding airmen to the world by allowing them to train full time in their respective sports.
Simmons came in second place in the Olympic vaulting trials just behind Army 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks, who broke the Olympic trials record with a jump of 5.91 meters. Simmons cleared 5.72 meters in a meet in Denver this past June, and if he can beat that personal best, he might have a shot at earning a medal at the games in Rio de Janeiro.