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Airmen set sights on 2016 Olympics

At least seven hope to qualify

Jun. 15, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison bikes during the 2013 Armed Forces National Championship.
2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison bikes during the 2013 Armed Forces National Championship. (Courtesy 2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison)
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The winter Olympics just wrapped up in February, but Air Force athletes already are gearing up for the summer games two years away.

The Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program, through which airmen earn a spot to qualify for the Olympics, recently accepted its newest member: 2nd Lt Samantha Morrison. The 23-year-old triathlete’s accomplishments include winning the women’s division of the Armed Forces Triathlon Championship this month for the second year in a row.

Morrison joins six other WCAP members this year: rugby players Capt. Cameron Freeman and 1st Lt. Eric Duechle; handball player 2nd Lt. Carsen Chun; track and field runner 2nd Lt. Morgan Mosby; wrestler Master Sgt. Cole Von Ohlen; and water polo player Senior Airman Joshua Steadman. Three more applicants are being considered.

“It would be amazing if I make it,” Morrison told Air Force Times. To qualify for the Olympicstriathlon, she must gain points from different events leading up to the summer games. “Right now, I need to start performing my best and being 100 percent every single day,” she said.

The program

Run by the Air Force Personnel Center, the two-year WCAP special assignment allows the selected airmen to train on their own schedule and at the base where they can best find and work with their own teams and coaches. But they must also get out into their communities to mentor and recruit future airmen as part of a partnership with Air Force Recruiting.

“It’s kind of a different beast now that I don’t have a regular nine- or 10- hour work day,” said Morrison, who is training at the Air Force Academy, where, as a cadet, she was captain of the triathlon team. “My roommate and I, our goal is to do all our workouts, get our recovery done, cook our meals in a regular day to make sure we ... don’t slack off.”

Modeled after the Army’s World Class Athlete program, the Air Force’s program started in 1995 to boost military participation in the Olympic games. The Marine Corps and Navy do not have the program, but service members may be selected to qualify for the Olympics through a special assignment consideration. Air Force World Class Athletes can train for, attend and participate in the 134-country member Conseil International du Sport Militaire, the Military World Games, the Olympic Games and qualifying events or preparatory competitions for those games.

To be eligible for WCAP, airmen must be nationally ranked in their sport and must obtain a letter from their sport’s sanctioned National Governing Body stating they are competitive at a national level. They must also submit a commander- and career field manager-endorsed Form 303, the “Request for USAF Specialized Sports Training,” to AFPC’s Fitness and Sports office. Air Force headquarters makes the final selection.

If airmen are interested in applying for WCAP, the Air Force recommends they apply at least 2½ years before the games. The Air Force receives about five applicants a year hoping to qualify for the winter Olympics, and about 20 for the summer Olympics. About half are chosen for WCAP for each season.

Keeping her focus

“Every year I try to get better, and I try to compare myself to the other professional women in this sport, and that’s how I measure my progress,” Morrison said.

And she’s making strides: In addition to winning the Armed Forces Triathlon Championship twice, she finished first among women ages 18 to 24 and beat the Air Force’s 35-year Ironman record by nearly an hour at the Ironman World championship in Hawaii last year.

But active duty still matters, said Morrison, who for the past year was the 4th Fighter Wing’s deputy chief of public affairs at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.

Morrison said she expects to promote on time, but she needs to be competitive with her fellow lieutenants even while on special assignment. “I still have to make sure my performance records are on point, and do everything that I can to do that,” she said.

Members can still pursue other career advancements during their time in WCAP, like getting a master’s or doctorate degree, AFPC spokesman Mike Dickerson said.

“With this opportunity for 2016 with the Air Force, a big goal of mine is to still do at least 20 years,” Morrison said. “But I’m addicted to my sport ... the endorphins, the atmosphere, the people it puts you in contact with, and I love the community, so I will definitely stick with this” for years to come.

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