For Team USA athlete-soldiers, enlistment paid for the Olympic dream – NBC Chicago

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Nordic combined is a niche sport, even athletes in the discipline recognize that, leaving Olympians who compete in the mix of ski jumping and cross-country skiing looking for options to fund their dreams.

Unlike some countries, the US government does not pay Americans to be competitive. That leaves it up to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee to allocate its limited financial resources to help athletes with the best chance of earning podium places.

This does not include the Nordic Combined.

To make ends meet, US Army specialists Ben Loomis and Jasper Good enlisted to earn pay and benefits through the World Class Athlete Program.

“It’s pretty special to go to the Olympics and represent the United States as an athlete and a soldier,” Loomis said. “I don’t think there is anything better than that.”

Without the program, Good could be back home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, working for a living instead of competing in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

“I don’t know if I would ski, quite frankly,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to make a professional career out of it. … It opened so many doors for me and created so many more opportunities for me.”

The duo are among five members of the Army program competing this year, joining Frank Del Duca and Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, both specialists and members of the bobsled team, and luge Emily Sweeney, who is a sergeant.

“I think it’s the greatest honor and privilege I could have,” Sweeney said. “I’m so grateful to be part of two amazing groups, aren’t I? We have WCAP and soldiers that make up this group, and then we also have Team USA, which is another incredible group of Human being.”

Kelly Curtis, who competes in skeleton competitions, is part of the Air Force Athlete Program.

“It made all the difference between being able to focus on my practice runs and not trying to make ends meet, not having to choose between another practice run or being able to eat a decent meal that night” , she said.

Today’s athletes are following the same path that many have followed over the past quarter century.

Since the Army’s program began in 1997, approximately 60 winter and summer Olympians have taken advantage of the opportunity. Each undergoes basic training, like any other soldier, and must keep abreast of their responsibilities such as weapons qualification.

Athletes receive the same pay and benefits, including a housing allowance, as other active duty soldiers.

“I couldn’t do it without WCAP and I’m extremely grateful for that,” Abdul-Saboor said.

Good said he signed up for six years in the military, adding he could be in the military even longer than that.

“I absolutely plan to stay in the military for a while after I’m done with WCAP,” he said.

While Olympians make a lot of personal sacrifices to pursue their athletic dreams, they must also balance their commitment to the military.

Ultimately, however, they say it’s worth it.

“Our sport is quite specialized in the United States, so it’s up to us to fund it, whether it’s for you or for your own work,” Good said. “Quite honestly, (the program) has changed the game for me. It has opened up new doors, new opportunities.”


AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.

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