by George Banker
Every dream of athletes is to represent their country at the International Olympic Games and to bear the title of “Olympian.” The athletes train hard for four years but there is no guarantee that the dreams will be fulfilled. The training is endless and for many there are full-time jobs and family lives which must be sacrificed. Once the person makes the commitment to train, they must set priorities.
The U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) provides soldier-athletes the opportunity to compete toward qualifying for the United States Olympic team. Qualified soldiers must be nationally ranked in their chosen sport and be certified by the United States Olympic Committee at a world class level. Athletes join the program at least three years before the Olympic Trials. To be eligible for the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, soldiers must currently be a member of the Active Army, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard. Soldiers must also be eligible to represent the USA in international competitions and demonstrate the potential to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team or U.S. Paralympic Team (http://www.wikipedia.com).
This was the largest Olympic Marathon Trials in history (14th year for the men and 10th for the women). The weather was 46 degrees with winds gusting 20-25 miles per hour. There were 175 men and 390 women to finish.
The race course, which was selected in Atlanta, was reported to be the most difficult in the history of the Trials. The course for the Olympics had been changed to a less hilly terrain. There were two eight-mile loops and one 10.2-mile loop.
The objective of all the athletes was to capture one of the top three places. In the earlier miles of the race all athletes were showing respect and reserve. The lead pack included Galen Rupp, the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials winner (2:11:12), and Abdi Abdirahman, age 43, a four-time Olympian who had finished ninth in 2:11:34 at the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon. Jacob Riley was in the mix and placed ninth at the 2019 Bank of America Chicago Marathon with a 2:10:36.
The WCAP athletes were in good company. As the pack moved along the course, whenever a runner made a move it was covered by another. The group went through Mile 5 in 24:54. The 10th mile was crossed in 50:02—50:03. At the half-marathon (Mile 13.1) mark the group was tight at 1:05:41.
During Miles 17-19, Rupp made a decisive move to increase the pace. All of the runners could not respond as a slight gap was opened and this was the turning point in the race. Rupp went through Mile 20 in 1:38:51. Maiyo was the only one within striking distance, trying to close the gap with 1:38:54. The group began to fade between 1:38:58—1:39:59.
It was apparent that Rupp had put the top spot out of reach and the race was on for the remaining two places. All of the runners had the potential and it was down to leg turnover, determination, and who was hungry.
At Mile 25 the sparks were starting to fly as the rush to the finish was on and Rupp was out of reach (2:03:08). Through the early miles Jacob Riley was hanging in the wings just waiting to make a decisive move into second (2:04:05) with Abdirahman taking over third place (2:04:06). Korir was putting forth an all-out effort to close down on the gap (2:04:07) and Maiyo had fallen off the pace (2:04:16).
Rupp captured his second Marathon Trials title with 2:09:20 followed by Riley with 2:10:02. Abdirahman was third in 2:10:03, with Korir close behind in fourth with 2:10:06.
Maiyo captured fifth place with 2:10:47. There were other U.S. Army reinforcements pulling up the rear. Sergeant Haron Lagat (2:13:04) was in 13th place, WCAP 2ndLt. Elkanah Kibet (2:13:52) was 16th, and 2ndLt. Sam Chelanga (2:13:52), 21st.
Sergeant Leonard Korir (Iten, Kenya), a 2012 graduate of Iona College, was the first NCAA Indoor Champion at 5,000 meters (13:26.01 – 2011) and first NCAA Outdoor Champion at 10,000 meters (28:07.63 – 2011). Korir is an eight time All-American. Korir joined the U.S. Army in 2015 (became US citizen in 2016). He is a 10-time USATF Champion.
- At the 2015 New York City Half Marathon Korir took first place in a time of 1:01:06.
- At the Games of the XXXI Olympiad (August 2016) in Rio de Janeiro, Korir placed 14th in 10,000 meters with a time of 27:35.65.
- Korir had made two appearances at the Army Ten-Miler and placed fifth both years 2016 (48:32) and 2017 (50:34).
- At the TCS Amsterdam Marathon (October 2019) Korir posted the fastest debut marathon time by an American (2:07:56 11th place) and is the 5th fastest American on the U.S. all-time list.
- 2019 USATF Half Marathon Championship, Pittsburgh, PA, 1st 1:01:53
- 2019 USATF 20K National Championship, New Haven, CT, 1st 59:06
- 2019 USATF Cross Country Championship 3rd 28:56
- 2019 New Balance Falmouth Road Race (7 miles) 1st 32:11
- 2019 USATF 15K National Championship, Jacksonville, FL 3rd 43:43
Staff Sergeant Augustus Maiyo (Kapsabet, Kenya) graduate of University of Alabama 2008. Joined the U.S. Army in 2010. (WCAP)
- At the 37th Marine Corps Marathon in 2012 Maiyo captured first place with a time of 2:20:20 (14th fastest winning time).
- Finished 16th at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with a time of 2:18:33.
- Maiyo has made six appearances at the Army Ten-Miler, 2011 – 48:21 2nd place, 2012 – 47:54 2nd place, 2013 – 49:00 7th place, 2014 – 48:51 6th place, 2015 – 48:29 4th place, and the winner in 2016 48:20.
- Maiyo was the first WCAP athlete to compete in the Boston Marathon in 2017 (2:13:16 7th place). Maiyo competed again in 2019 (2:12:40).
- Maiyo qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials at the 2019 Pan American Games where he placed 4th (2:12:25).
Sergeant Haron Lagat (WCAP) Graduated Texas Tech 2006
- Personal Best 5,000 meters 13:26.57, 10,000 meters 28:05.23, half-marathon 1:01:01
- 10th place 1:01:01 2018 Chevron Houston
- 15th place 48:19 2019 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run DC
- At the 33rd Army Ten-Miler 2017 1st place 49:23
2LT Elkanah Kibet (WCAP) Auburn University 2010, Joined US Army 2013
- 7th 2:11:31 2015 Chicago Marathon) Debut)
- 16th 2:15:14 World Marathon Championship, (1st American finisher) London
- 2nd 29:51:37 2018 NACAC Championship 10,000m, Toronto
- 8th 2:23:37 2018 122nd Boston Marathon
- 3rd 29:05.51 2018 USATF Outdoor National Championships 10,000m
- 11th 2:11:51 2019 123rd Boston Marathon
2ndLt. Sam Chelanga Liberty University, US Citizen 2015. Retired from professional running in 2018 to join the U.S. Army (Fort Jackson, S.C.)
- Personal Best 1500m 3:49.69, mile 4:03.84 (indoor) 5,000m 13:04.35
- 10,000m 27:08.39 (Liberty, Big South, and NCAA record)
- 15th 2:15:02 2017 Bank of Chicago Marathon
- 2016 Olympic Trials 6th 28:56.12 10,000m, 22nd 1359.52 5,000m
Prior Army Ten-Miler Olympians
Specialist Paul Chelimo (Iten, Kenya) graduated in 2014 from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, four-time NAIA National Champion and five-time NCAA All-American. He is the first Spartan to qualify for the Olympics. Chelimo joined the U.S. Army in 2014.
- At the 2015 Army Ten-Miler Chelimo took first place.
- In Heat One on July 4th Chelimo qualified for the finals with a time of 13:49.26. Going into the finals, Chelimo captured third with a time of 13:35.92. (August 2016)
- In the final Chelimo captured the silver medal with a time of 13:03:09. At first he was disqualified for stepping out of bounds. After a review, the judges reversed the decision.
LTC Major Dan Browne former WCAP athlete and now Modern Pentathlon coach. A two-time Olympian (10,000 meters and marathon). A 1997 West Point graduate and the first athlete to break the four-minute mile. Inducted into the Hall of Fame 2005. He set six Academy records (four indoor, two outdoor).
In order to understand the value of Coach Browne, let’s look back as he was starting to compete. “The difference, I believe, is that some people have to have things happen. It’s a mindset difference. The mind is a powerful weapon. To use it effectively is the difference,” stated Capt. Dan Browne.
It was October 12, 1997, when the Army 2ndLt from the 244th Corps Master Battalion at Fort Lee, VA made his 10-mile debut at the Army Ten-Miler. At eight and half miles Browne opened up a 50-meter gap over the defending champion 1stLt Michael Berstein who had set the event record in 1996 (47:59). Browne established a new record of 47:44 (4th fastest winning time). The following year he took first place with 48:52 (18th fastest winning time).
“I wanted to win it and bring prestige to the event. I also wanted to make a splash so I could get into the WCAP team. I think after I won it the first time, people in the military, especially in the running circles, started looking at it with more interest,” stated Browne.
“Going to West Point is definitely NOT the easiest place to go to school so there were absolutely some things that I had to sacrifice in going there, but I knew that overall it would be worth it.
“The WCAP years were the catalyst. WCAP was a great developmental phase for me. I truly appreciate the military for getting me to the point where I was prepared mentally and physically to make the U.S. Olympic Team. It’s the main reason why I’m still in the Oregon National Guard, because I want to have the military attached to my name when I’m in Athens.”
In February 2004 he placed third in the U.S. Marathon Trials with 2:12:02 to make his first Olympic team. In April Browne captured another Olympic position in the 10,000 meters with a third place time of 28:07.47. At the Olympic Games in Athens, Browne ran 28:14.53 in the 10,000 meters and 2:27:17 in the marathon.
On October 24, 2004 Browne captured his third Army Ten-Miler with a then new event record in a time of 47:32 (3rd fastest winning time).
The WCAP soldier-athletes have had a strong presence at the annual Army Ten-Miler each year.
The U.S. Army has been a moving force within the Olympic Games. The 1996 Olympic gold medalist (12.95), three-time World Champion (’95, ‘97, ’01) at 110m hurdles, Allen Johnson, made a special tribute to Colonel Willie Davenport, Army National Guard and chief of the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Sports Management.
Colonel Davenport (1943-2002) won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in the 110-meter hurdles (Meet record of 13.3) and a bronze medal in the 1976 Olympics. He was elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1982, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1988, and the U.S. Olympics Hall of Fame in 1990. There were four AAU outdoor titles and six AAU indoor titles from 1965-1969.
There is additional information on the World Class Athletic Program (WCAP) at the U.S. Army Installation Management Command website https://www.armymwr.com/programs-and-services/world-class-athlete-program.
Categories: Race Coverage