Never mind whether Dream Team ’12 can hold a candle to Dream Team ’92. A different crew of athletes competing for Olympic Gold in London has been through a much different set of trials: U.S. military service.
This year, 21 athletes and coaches heading to the Olympic Games are on active duty in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. They’re competing in everything from wrestling to shooting to boxing to fencing. One of the U.S.’s Paralympians, Army Sgt. 1st Class John Olson, lost his right leg on a combat mission in Iraq in 2003.
It’s actually nothing new for the U.S.: Olympic athletes throughout history have had distinguished military records. Oftentimes, their service has come after their athletic achievements. Linn Farish won the gold in 1924 for his rugby skills, but he would later fly behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia during World War II to map landing strips and rescue downed pilots for the pre-CIA Office of Strategic Services. Sprinting champ Charley Paddock, a four-time medalist from 1920 to 1928, died in a 1943 plane crash in Alaska after enlisting. Farid Simaika represented Egypt as a diver in the 1928 Olympics. He became a U.S. citizen in 1942 and joined the Army Air Corps before being shot down over New Guinea two years later. There was also this other guy named George Patton.
This time around, with the United States still at war, military athletes aren’t waiting until before or after their service to compete. Here are eight of the active-duty athletes worth letting out an extra cheer for in London. Eat your heart out, Kobe.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers
Sport: Greco-Roman Wrestling
Byers may be out to prove something in London. He competed in Beijing in the 120-kilogram Greco-Roman weight class, and came in 7th. On the other hand, the quartermaster and 18-year veteran should feel pretty secure in his athletic prowess: According to the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, he’s the U.S.’s most decorated Greco-Roman wrestler, a 10-time world champion at the age of 37. Byers got as far as the quarterfinals on August 6 before getting outmatched by Turkey’s Riza Kayaalp.
Photo: U.S. Army