U.S. bobsledders Capt. Chris Fogt and Army veteran Steven Holcomb can look ahead to the next winter Olympics, but the Army's Olympic training program could be sidelined. (Airman Taylor Queen / Air Force)
As the fanfare of the 2014 Winter Games fades into memory, the squad of soldier-athletes and military coaches who competed for Team USA will spend the next few weeks on tour, visiting the White House to see President Obama, meeting top brass at the Pentagon, making public appearances.
By the end of April, however, most will be out-processing off of active duty and out of the Army’s Olympic incubator — dubbed the World Class Athlete Program — and returning to their respective Guard units.
It’s a strange, emotionally charged time for most, says Team USA’s assistant bobsled coach, 1st Lt. Mike Kohn. But with talk of deep force structure cuts on the horizon, he just hopes they have a program to come back to as training for the next Winter Games kicks into gear.
“It’s discussed every year, possibly every month. But I think if people understood how hard these soldier-athletes worked at their careers as well as their sport, they’d defend the program,” Kohn said.
Based at Fort Carson, Colo., near the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the World Class Athlete Program provides a full-time home for elite athletes and Olympic contenders. WCAP deployed three coaches, four bobsledders, two lugers and one Paralympic athlete to this year’s Winter Games.
Team USA’s star bobsled driver, Steven Holcomb — who earned two bronze medals this year and struck gold in the 2010 Games — was part of WCAP until 2006, when a degenerative eye disease forced him out of the Army. After a new surgical technique restored his eyesight to 20-20, Holcomb tried to get back into WCAP, but Army officials repeatedly denied the request.
“I had a lot of people pulling hard for me, but it came down to we can’t make one exception,” Holcomb told Army Times recently. “I’d still love to get back in.”
It’s that kind of passion that makes WCAP athletes worth the investment, Kohn said.
“For some, WCAP might look like a great thing to cut, but at the same time, we really don’t cost that much money,” he said. “Our entire budget is less than $1 million, but most of the stuff we do as athletes is funded by the national governing bodies. And there’s a lot of good that comes out of it.”
From Gen. George Patton, who was an Olympic pentathlete when he was young, to modern-day troops like Capt. Chris Fogt, who returns from these Winter Games with a bronze medal in bobsledding, sending soldiers to the Games promotes sport, promotes soldiers and “all the good stuff we have to offer,” Kohn said.
Fogt, an intelligence officer, will remain on active duty with orders to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., Kohn said.
Assuming WCAP survives the next round of force structure cuts, the athletes and coaches will have to wait at least a year to apply to return to WCAP and get ready for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.