With the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics officially beginning today and the opening ceremony set for Friday, U.S. service members are among the 225 athletes representing the United States.
There are nine service members set to compete, with one Vermont National Guardsman standing by as an alternate.
For some, like Army Spec. Frank Del Duca, this will be their first time at the games. Del Duca, an infantryman from Maine who enlisted in 2019, said he’s incredibly grateful for the opportunity to represent his country both as a soldier and as an Olympian.
“It means the world to me to be able to do both,” Del Duca told Military Times. “I can just hope to do my best as a soldier and an athlete.”
Competing alongside Del Duca for Team USA’s men’s bobsled team is fellow Army Spec. Hakeem Abdul Saboor.
Abdul Saboor, a biomedical equipment specialist from Powhatan, Virginia, previously competed in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea, finishing 21st in the two-man event and 19th in the four-man event.
This will also be the second Winter Olympics for Nordic combined competitors Specs. Benjamin Loomis and Jasper Good. Both Good and Loomis are motor transport operators in the Utah National Guard.
Nordic combined, a hybrid sport, is made up of both ski jumping and cross-country skiing, where athletes earn points for distance and style in the ski jump, which then dictate the order for the staggered cross-country race. It is the only winter Olympic sport that is a male-only event.
Three Vermont National Guardsmen will be competing in the biathalon event, a sport that combines cross-country skiing and riflery.
Specs. Leif Nordgren and Sean Doherty are both three-time Olympic-competitors, having previously competed in the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics.
Nordgren will not only be competing this February, but also welcoming his first-born child, who’s due Feb. 4 — the day of the opening ceremony.
Unlike the other National Guard and Army athletes, Nordgren, Doherty and women’s biathalon competitor Sgt. Deedra Irwin are not part of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, which sponsors soldiers’ Olympic and Paralympic dreams while they continue to serve.
Men’s biathalon team alternate Spec. Vaclav Cervenka will also be in Beijing in case another Team USA athlete has to withdraw.
Representing the Air Force is Airman 1st Class Kelly Curtis, who will be competing in one of the three sliding sports held during the winter Olympics.
This will be Curtis’ first Olympic games, with the cyber security specialist competing as part of Team USA’s smallest skeleton contingent since the sport returned to the Olympics in 2002. The sport was previously considered too dangerous for the games.
Skeleton events involve an athlete riding head-first, face-down on a flat sled.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Curtis said in an Air Force press release about being an Olympian. “I was such a long shot with this being my rookie season on the World Cup level and competing on all foreign tracks, some for my first time. I knew everything had to go right in my final race to qualify me; it’s still surreal that it did.”
The final service member competing in the Beijing games is Army Sgt. Emily Sweeney, who will be competing in the luge events.
For Sweeney, the 2022 Olympics mark an impressive comeback after the military policewoman broke her back, neck and finger in the 2018 Winter Olympics in a severe crash during her final run.
“Though the race didn’t go as I’d hoped for,” Sweeney said in an Army press release, “I felt very proud of what I’d done.”
In addition to the 10 athletes are four Team USA coaches from the military. Virginia National Guard Capt. Michael Kohn is participating as the men’s bobsled coach, working alongside fellow soldiers Lt. Col. Garrett Hines and Sgt. Justin Olsen.
Army Staff Sgt. Shawna Rohbock is also in Beijing as the women’s assistant bobsled coach.
There are no Olympians competing from the Navy, Marine Corps or Space Force.
While the team for this year’s Paralympic winter events will be officially announced February 19, Paralympic athletes already announced include former Navy SEAL Dan Cnossen and Marine Josh Sweeney.
The Beijing 2022 Paralympics will open March 4.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master’s candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting.
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