By Army News ServiceJanuary 4, 2017
FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service) -- From Olympic glory to inter-service pride, 2016 was a momentous year for Soldier-athletes.
At the Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Soldiers earned silver and bronze in track and field. Then three weeks later, an Army sergeant broke a Paralympic world record to bring home gold.
Also in 2016, All-Army teams captured Armed Forces championships in basketball, rugby, softball and wrestling, not to mention marathon and triathlon team gold medals. Soldiers on Team USA brought home gold from the Conseil International du Sports Militaire men's basketball championship, and Team USA took silver in the CISM women's world basketball championship.
And of course, the West Point Black Knights beat Navy for the first time in 14 years on the gridiron field and went on to win the Heart of Dallas Bowl to cap a memorable year in sports.
At the Rio Olympic Games, Spc. Paul Chelimo pushed past his personal best to win a silver medal in the men's 5,000-meter run, Aug. 20, with a time of 13:03.9. But Chelimo's greatest challenge came moments after the race, when an NBC journalist informed him that he had been disqualified for lane infringement.
The race featured a lot of pushing, shoving and stumbling by numerous runners throughout, and it came down to a frenetic sprint to the finish in the final 200 meters. Track officials briefly disqualified Chelimo for stepping on the inside lane line.
"They said it was infringement, but going back to what happened is people were pushing back and forth," explained Chelimo, a Kenyan native who trains in Beaverton, Oregon, as a Soldier in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.
The appeal process was the longest wait of his life, Chelimo said. Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, who attended the games as a member of President Barack Obama's U.S. delegation to Brazil, said the entire delegation was pulling for him.
Chelimo's disqualification was overturned upon appeal, and he brought home the silver medal for Team USA.
On Aug. 15, Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks was content to walk away with the Olympic bronze medal following what he called "the most enjoyable pole vault competition of his life," at the Rio Olympic Games.
It took two Olympic records, set by the gold and silver medalists, to top Kendricks' vault of 19 feet, 2 inches and push him to third place on a rainy night at the Olympic Stadium.
Back in July, when Kendricks secured a spot on the U.S. Olympic team at the trials, he cleared the bar at 5.91 meters, which is 19 feet, 4.75 inches, an Olympic trials record.
Sgt. Elizabeth Marks broke a world record in the women's SB7 100-meter breaststroke, winning gold in her Paralympic debut Sept. 10 with a time of 1:28.13. She also helped Team USA take home the bronze by swimming breaststroke in the medley competition.
Marks, who joined the Army at age 17, attributed her motivation to excel to the Army and said her win was for her fellow Soldiers. "I think that I have an advantage because I have a purpose outside of a medal," Marks said.
Marks also received the 2016 Pat Tillman Award during the ESPYS over the summer after dominating swimming at the Invictus Games in Florida, winning four gold medals.
TRACK AND FIELD TRIALS
Spc. Shadrack Kipchirchir and Spc. Leonard Korir qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games by finishing second and third respectively in the 10,000-meter men's finals at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field, held July 1 in Eugene, Oregon. Their times were 28:01.52 and 28:16.97.
Two more Army distance runners earned berths in the Rio Olympic Games during the final weekend of the trials at Hayward Field.
-- Sgt. Hillary Bor of Fort Carson, Colorado, finished runner-up to Evan Jager in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase on July 8, with a time of 8:24.10.
-- Spc. Paul Chelimo finished third in the men's 5,000-meter race.
In April, three Soldiers from the Army's World Class Athlete Program reached the finals of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on the University of Iowa campus.
Sgt. Caylor Williams of Fort Carson was 38 seconds shy of earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team before dropping a 6-5 decision in the third match of a best-of-three series against Minnesota Storm's Josef Rau in the Greco-Roman 98-kilogram finals.
Spc. Ildar Hafizov, a 2008 Olympian for Uzbekistan who is now a U.S. Army Soldier stationed at Fort Carson, competed for the Greco-Roman 59-kilogram crown. He was defeated by Jesse Thielke of the New York Athletic Club.
Reigning world champion and three-time world medalist Helen Maroulis of Huntington Beach, California, defeated three-time U.S. World Team member Sgt. Whitney Conder of Fort Carson in two straight matches in the women's freestyle 53-kilogram division.
Two-time Olympian Sgt. Spenser Mango of the Army World Class Athlete Program lost to Thielke in the quarterfinals. Mango then took off his shoes and left them on the mat, a wrestler's way of signaling retirement from competition in the sport.
Sgt. Augustus Maiyo led his fellow Soldiers to snatch the top five places in the 32nd running of the Army Ten-Miler Oct. 9. "We were running together the whole time," said Maiyo, a Kenyan native and member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.
Most of the WCAP team stayed out in front the entire race, Maiyo said. That allowed the team members to move to the finish line as one. Of the more than 35,000 runners who participated, none of the others came even close.
"It was a win for the Army," Maiyo said.
Seconds before the start of the race, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley picked up a microphone and asked if the Soldiers were going to win. They raised their arms in a victory gesture and declared they would do it for the Army. A loud "hooah!" followed from the racers, many of whom were Soldiers or veterans.
In November, Army won the Armed Forces Men's Basketball Championship, defeating the Air Force 67-61 at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
Then the best players from all services formed Team USA to compete in the SHAPE International Military Basketball Tournament in Mons, Belgium, from Nov. 28 to Dec. 3. Team USA came home with the gold after defeating Lithuania in overtime.
Army repeated as Armed Forces women's basketball champions July 11, after scoring on a last-minute three-pointer to defeat Navy 67-65 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Army Spc. Vanessa Laminson picked the ball up, threw it toward the basket and tripped over her teammate as time expired, but the ball swished the net and the crowd exploded into applause.
Key players were then selected for Team USA, and they trained at Lackland Air Force Base for another week before heading out to San Diego for the CISM Women's Basketball Tournament, hosted by the USA. Every year USA hosts one CISM tournament, and this was it for 2016.
CISM WOMEN'S BASKETBALL
Team USA and Brazil both went into the championship game undefeated July 29 after a week of competition at Camp Pendleton, during the CISM World Military Women's Basketball Championship.
USA had beaten Canada on day one, 82-25; France on day two, 85-53; China -- last year's silver-medalist -- on day three, 73-56; and Germany on day four, 91-27.
With seconds to go, USA was up by one point, but Sgt. Danielle DeBerry was forced out of bounds and the ball went to Brazil. Sgt. Debora Fernandes da Costa quickly threw it up for two points and the championship win for Brazil, 61-60.
Army men captured their fifth straight softball gold, and Army women repeated as Armed Forces champs. The Army men's and women's softball teams dominated the 2016 Armed Forces Softball Championship at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston's Pershing Ballpark, Sept. 18 to 23.
The Army swept both the men's and women's Armed Forces Marathon competitions, run in conjunction with the Marine Corps Marathon.
Army Spc. Samuel Kosgei of Fort Riley, Kansas, crossed the finish line with a time of 2:23:53 to win his second Marine Corps Marathon and Armed Forces gold.
"I felt good," Kosgei said. "This was my second," referring to his 2014 Marine Corps Marathon win.
Kosgei's win marks the third straight year and fifth time in six years that a Soldier captured the top men's spot in the Marine Corps Marathon.
Army Capt. Kenneth Foster of Denver, Colorado, finished with a time of 2:28:02 and Army Spc. David Kiplaget of Fort Carson crossed at 2:33:31 to place second and third respectively in the Armed Forces Men's Championship.
Leading the Women's Division for over 20 miles, Army Capt. Meghan Curran hoped to repeat her 2014 performance when she won the Marine Corps Marathon Women's title.
After battling stomach pain and the elements, Curran fell to second overall behind the winner Perry Shoemaker of Vienna, Virginia. Curran's toughness still prevailed as she won her second Armed Forces women's crown.
Army Pfc. Susan Tanui of Fort Riley, Kansas, took a silver medal with a time of 3:06:26.
In addition, the U.S. Women's Marathon Team captured the team silver medal at the CISM World Military Marathon Championship in Turin, Italy, Oct. 2. The U.S. men placed ninth overall.
The U.S. Armed Forces Golf Team wrapped up the final round of play at the 2016 CISM World Military Golf Championship, in Amsterdam, Sept. 3. USA women captured the bronze medal with Army Col. Shauna Synder finishing 5th overall. The USA Men placed fourth.
In August, the Army captured its fourth straight title at the 2016 Armed Forces Rugby Sevens Championship in Glendale, Colorado, home of Rugbytown USA.
Army dominated pool play, going 4-0 against teams from the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard in the Armed Forces division of the world-class Serevi RugbyTown Sevens Tournament, which also drew teams from across the U.S., Canada, U.K., Bermuda and the Bahamas.
Army's Spc. Rocco Mauer of the Utah National Guard scored four tries in the championship, as Army routed the Air Force 55-5 for gold.
"We focus on getting the right guys," said Army Capt. Andrew Locke. "When you're in the 13th and 14th minute and you have to dig deep, you really have to dig deep for the guys to the left and right of you. It's no different if you're in a platoon or a rugby team."
(Follow Gary Sheftick on Twitter @SheftickARNEWS and David Vergun @VergunARNEWS.)
Editor's note: Articles by ARNEWS journalist David Vergun and Tim Hipps contributed to this report.