Five Soldier-athletes and four coaches assigned to the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program recently competed in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China, February 4-20, 2022. These athletes represent all components of the Army, including the National Guard and Army Reserves in the sports of Bobsleigh, Nordic combined, and Luge.
These athletes and coaches train year round while assigned to WCAP, an elite unit that allows top-ranked Soldier-athletes to perform at the international level while also serving their nation in the military. Competing in multiple competitions throughout the year, their ultimate goal is to compete in the Olympic or Paralympic Games.
WCAP Soldiers come from the Active, Reserve and National Guard components, and are selected for their ability to perform at the highest level of their sports. After joining the unit, they hone their skills with elite civilian and military coaches at America’s best facilities. Meanwhile, they keep current with Army requirements, attend military schools and stay competitive with their uniformed counterparts.
The 2022 Olympic Games brought many ups and downs, seeing some personal bests at the 2022 Winter Games, but also seeing their fair share of challenges.
Sgt. Emily Sweeney, a military police officer from Suffield, Connecticut, has been competing in Luge for over a decade. She was named Junior World Champion in 2013; and has earned one World Cup gold medal, five World Cup silver medals, and one World Cup bronze medal.
Prior to the Olympics, Sweeney was racing in the International Luge Federation World Cup, finishing 19th overall.
Sweeney started out strong in Beijing, laying down a 10th place run on Heat 1 of the Women’s Singles race with a time of 58.971, however a crash during her second run bumped her down to 28th place, trailing the lead by 4.585 seconds with a combined time of 2:01.410. Sweeney made a resilient comeback during her third run to climb two spots to finish in 26th, with a combined time of 3:00.292. To qualify for Heat 4, she would have needed to finish in 20th or above at the end of her third run.
“It was really disappointing to crash, but that’s part of Luge,” said Sweeney. “I put it all out there, and I’m just really proud of the group that competed. It’s a special thing to be a part of the Olympics and this team, and I’m grateful for that.”
Spc. Ben Loomis, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Spc. Jasper Good, of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, are both Motor Transport Operators in the Utah Army National Guard. Currently on orders assigned to the World Class Athlete Program, these Soldier-athletes both compete in the sport of Nordic combined, a combination of ski jumping and cross-country. The Beijing Winter Olympic Games were the second Winter Olympics for both of these athletes, however, their first as Soldiers.
As the name suggests, Nordic combined combines two sports: ski jumping and cross-country skiing. It has been contested at the Winter Olympics since the first Games in 1924 in Chamonix.
“It was an incredible honor to represent the U.S. Army at these Games,” said Good. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to compete in the Olympics.”
Good set his personal best during the 2022 Winter Olympics, moving up from his 43rd place finish in PyeongChang to 34th in Beijing with a time of 27:32.9.
“I’m psyched about my personal best at the Olympics in this event,” he said.
Loomis, who averaged around 38th during the regular season, put out his personal best at the normal hill, going the cross-country race in 17th place. Loomis managed to push to 15th by the end of the 10 kilometer sprint, with a time of 26:57.8.
“I’m really happy with finishing 15th overall,” said Loomis, the highest-placing American in the Normal Hill event. “I wasn’t totally satisfied with my jumping, but I was able to make up for that in the race.”
At the Large Hill event, Loomis scored 105.6 points in the competition jump round, starting him in 17th place for the cross-country race. He finished the cross-country race in 19th place, with a final time of 26:51.2.
The third and final event for the Nordic combined skiers teamed them up with civilian teammates Taylor Fletcher and Jared Schumate. In the team event, all four athletes jump for points, which determines the starting order and penalties during the race. In the cross-country event, the athletes each ski 5km, instead of 10km, often resulting in faster pace, and more of a competitive sprint throughout the race.
Finishing in 6th place with a total time of 53:07.1, the four athletes showed the U.S.’s best result since the Sochi Olympics in 2014, where Team USA also placed 6th.
The U.S. has four total medals in the sport, winning them all at the 2010 Vancouver Games, taking gold and silver in the individual large hill, and silver in the normal hill and the team event.
Spc. Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, a biomedical equipment specialist, from Powhatan, Virginia, made his second Olympic appearance at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, while Spc. Frank Del Duca, an infantryman, from Bethel, Maine, made his Olympic debut piloting both the two and four-man bobsleds for Team USA.
For the two-man bobsled event, Del Duca and Abdul-Saboor teamed with each other as one of two sleds for Team USA. Del Duca laid down an impressive first heat, finishing 13th, and trailing the leader by 0.85 hundredths of a second. During heat two, the duo dropped to 15th with a combined time of 2:00.09, trailing by 1.71 seconds, but managed to climb back to 12th during heat three the following day. In the fourth and final heat, the duo dropped back to 13th, finishing with a combined time of 4:00.1, trailing the German leaders by 3.21 seconds.
“I loved the challenge of learning a new track and competing with the best in the world on the biggest stage,” Del Duca said. “I always look at what I can learn from and improve on. I learned a lot and continued to improve as a pilot.”
During the four-man bobsled event, Del Duca and Abdul-Saboor once again teamed up, with the help of two civilian athletes. During the first heat, the team finished in 14th, with a time of 59.26, trailing first place Germany by 1.13 seconds. In heat two, the team held the same place, falling just behind the first USA sled, with a time of 1:58.82, trailing first by 1.82 seconds; the team held strong during heats three and four the next day, finishing heat three in 15th, and heat four in 13th, with a combined time of 3:57.65, only 3.35 seconds behind first place.
“It was an honor to represent the United States, and the Army at the Games,” said Del Duca. “When I consider my experience level, I can’t be upset. All things considered, we performed well, and can’t wait for what we can accomplish in the future.”
After the games, the athletes will return for more training at Lake Placid, NY. The Nordic combined team jumps straight back into their World Cup Competition, and will compete in Norway later in February.