Sgt. Ildar Hafizov and Spc. Alejandro Sancho fought their way to victory at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials in Fort Worth, Texas, April 2-3, earning themselves spots on the U.S. Wrestling Olympic Team where they will represent the Army at the Summer Olympic Games this July in Tokyo, Japan.
Hafizov and Sancho, members of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), are joining six other Soldier-athletes at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, now being held in July 2021 due a delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hafizov grabbed the Olympic title for the Greco-Roman 60kg weight class and Sancho for the Greco-Roman 67kg weight class. The Army's was on display at the nationally broadcasted event as both Soldiers competed against fellow WCAP opponents in their Championship Series; Hafizov faced Sgt. Ryan Mango and Sancho wrestled Sgt. Ellis Coleman.
Sancho’s emotional victory marks his first time making the U.S. Olympic team. He beat Ellis in the best-of-three-series, 2-0 and 3-1.
“This feels unbelievable,” Sancho said shortly after his win. “This is such an amazing feeling and I am so proud to be part of the Army team. WCAP and the Army have changed my life. I can’t thank them enough for what they have done for me.”
Sancho noted that mental preparation is crucial and the Army values helped keep him disciplined throughout the competition.
“Anything can happen in this sport,” said Sancho. “I just wanted to keep a good position throughout the matches and kept my mind on the goal, to win.”
Hafizov fell short at the 2016 trials as the runner-up in the 67kg weight class. He earned a long-awaited victory this time around, beating Mango 7-0 and 8-0.
“I feel so great,” Hafizov said after his win. “I have an overall sensation of happiness, I am so proud of myself. I have been waiting five years for this moment.”
A former Uzbekistan Olympian, Hafizov came to America to chase his dreams, a goal he was able to achieve through his victory at his second U.S. Olympic trials appearance.
“Like everyone else, I wanted a better life for my family. My wife and kids are my inspiration,” said Hafizov, father of two. “I am so proud to represent our great country and the Army. The Army gave me the ticket for a better life.”
Staff Sgt. Spencer Mango, one of WCAP’s wrestling coaches, spoke of the Army’s large presence at the trials, with five Soldier-athletes making it to the Championship Series round.
“We bring quality Soldier-athletes into the program and our strength shows,” said Mango, 2018 U.S.A. Greco-Roman Wrestling Coach of the Year and two time Olympic Team Member. “These guys went through a lot of adversity this year and they have been working hard. They stayed focus and were able to get the job done.”
Sgt. Jenna Burkert, a competitor in the Women’s Freestyle 57kg weight class, was among the five Soldier-athletes to make it to the championship round. Her emotionally-charged and hard fought battle did not go unnoticed.
“Jenna has had a rough month, her mom passed away last week,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jermaine Hodge, WCAP’s women’s wrestling coach. “She is a gamer, she has trained for these trials and she is giving it her all. All you can do is live for the moment.”
After Burkert’s debut at the Olympic trials, the 2019 Pan American silver medalist thanked her mom.
“It is an absolute honor to be her daughter,” the three-time Wrestling World Team Member said. “At the end of the day I know my mom didn’t care about the wins or the losses, she wanted me to have fun and do my best. She meant everything to me and is my champion.”
It’s safe to say the Army walked away from the trials victorious with two more Solider-athletes crowned as Olympians to compete in the upcoming Summer Games.
Hafizov and Sancho bring the total number of Olympic qualified WCAP Soldier-athletes to eight. The six other Soldier-Olympians are Staff Sgt. Naomi Graham, boxing; Staff Sgt. Sandra Uptagrafft, 1st Lt. Amber English, and Staff Sgt. Nikolaus Mowrer, shooting; and Sgt. Amro Elgeziry and Sgt. Samantha Schultz, modern pentathlon.
Follow @USArmyWCAP to see the Olympic journey of these Soldier-athletes and others still competing for their chance to represent the nation this summer.
The U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program is part of Family and Morale, Welfare and reaction and the U.S. Army Installation Management Command.