(Jan. 23, 2014) Four New York Army National Guard soldiers will be part of the U.S. Olympic team at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in February.
Sgt. Nicholas Cunningham and Sgt. Justin Olsen will be part of the Olympic bobsled team while Sgt. Matthew Mortensen and Staff Sgt. William Tavares are part of the Olympic luge team.
Olsen, a bobsled "pusher," won a gold medal in the sport at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, while Cunningham is a bobsled driver who is ranked 17th in the world.
Mortensen will compete for Olympic gold, while Tavares, who competed in the Olympics himself in 1992 and coached the 2010 American luge team, will coach the 2014 luge team.
All four men are part of the Army's World Class Athlete Program in which active-component Army and Army National Guard soldiers serve while training as athletes on Olympic sports teams. The Army pays their military salaries while allowing them to focus on honing their skills.
Mortensen, 28, who enlisted in the New York Army Guard in 2010, secured his spot on the Olympic team when he and fellow Army athlete Sgt. Preston Griffall earned a ninth-place finish in luge doubles at the Luge World Cup competition in December at Utah Olympic Park.
He has been a member of the Army's World Class Athlete Program since April 2011. He and Griffall won silver medals at the 2013 Lake Placid World Cup Team Relay race.
"It's unbelievable," Mortensen said. "I get emotional thinking about it. It's been almost 17 years that I've been working toward this point, and for it to finally happen is like a dream come true."
Tavares, 50, has served in the New York Army Guard since 1982. He has been involved in the Army's World Class Athlete program since 1998.
Tavares finished ninth at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games as a luge competitor. He coached the U.S. women's bobsled teams at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics. As a coach for U.S. national teams since 1997, he has helped lead athletes to five world championships and 70 medals in World Cup competitions.
Olsen, 26, enlisted in the New York Army Guard in January 2011. In 2010, he was one of the three "pushers" on the U.S. four-man bobsled team which took the gold medal that year.
Cunningham, 28, enlisted in the New York National Guard in March of 2011.
A fifth soldier heading for the Olympics, Sgt. 1st Class Tuffield Latour, is a member of the Vermont Army Guard but lives in Schenectady, N.Y. The 46-year old serves as head coach on the U.S. Olympic Skeleton Team. Skeleton is a sledding sport.
Since the Army's World Class Athlete Program was created, 55 Army, Army Reserve and Army Guard athletes have won gold, silver or bronze medals at the Olympic Games.