Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning landed in Rio de Janiero late Friday as part of President Obama's official delegation to the Closing Ceremonies of the 2016 Games. You could say he arrived just in time. For two Soldier Olympians, SGT Nathan Schrimsher and SPC Paul Chelimo, their hopes of Olympic glory remain very much alive.
SPC Paul Chelimo will compete in the Finals of the Men's 5,000-meters during the final Track and Field session of the Summer Games on Saturday evening. During Wednesday's Trials, SPC Chelimo qualified with the fastest time, finishing the 5,000 in less than 13 minutes and 20 seconds, a personal best.
After the race, the former UNC-Greensboro All-American told reporters, "Before I say anything, I did this for all of the Soldiers out there, all of the Soldiers who work hard everyday. I represent them."
SPC Chelimo's standout performance appeared a product of both determination and destiny. In a social media post on Wednesday morning, he gave the world a preview of what they were about to see: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat," SPC Chelimo wrote, paraphrasing words made famous by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
It is in fact a British Olympian, the 2012 Gold Medalist in the 5,000 meters at the London Games, Mo Farah, who may provide SPC Chelimo the most difficult test on Saturday. While Farah placed 8th in qualifying on Wednesday, his tactical and savvy approach to high-level competition has helped him become one of the most decorated British athletes of his generation.
SPC Chelimo appears prepared for the challenge. As he continued his recitation of Winston Churchill on social media this week: "Never give in … Never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense."
SGT Nathan Schrimsher, another member of the Army World Class Athletes Program, held his own on Thursday, preserving his chance to compete for a medal in the Modern Pentathlon. Thursday's portion of the five-event competition, Fencing, has in the past been one of SGT Schrimsher's weaker disciplines. He appeared headed in that direction again before quickly recovering, defeating some of the top medal contenders and concluding the first portion of the program in 9th place. With his strongest events yet to come, swimming and jumping, SGT Schrimsher also has a shot an Olympic glory.
On Friday, one of the most seasoned of the 12 Army Olympians, SSG John Nunn, takes to the streets of Rio in the 50km Race-Walk. It was the third appearance in the Olympics for the former infantryman.
SSG Nunn did not medal or place in the top ten. It is clear however, that the thrill of competition and his pride in representing the Army and the United States were as strong as ever. "This is so much bigger than just me," SSG Nunn said after qualifying for games last summer. "This is the United States Army."
SSG Nunn had competed in the Olympics in 2004 but missed the Games in Beijing four years later. He reflected earlier this year on how his participation in the last two Summer Games was the result of a team effort on behalf of the Army. "They believe in me enough that they've invested time and money and emotion and other people into this."
It's this kinds of resilience, appreciation, and commitment that makes Soldier Olympians representative of our Army's best and American's best.
With the quality of these athletes, Soldiers, and ambassadors, it's easy to understand Secretary Fanning's response this week to Jeff Seidel of The Detroit Free Press was not surprising. When speaking to the reporter about the great honor of being a member of a Presidential Delegation and what he most looks forward to during his visit, Secretary Fanning explained: "My priority going down there is to spend as much time with the soldiers as I can."