Saturday, July 2 2022

The 2024 Olympics are not far away and potential athletes are already gearing up to compete. USAF athletes are no different, and an in-house program is ready to help them along that path.

The World Class Athlete Program is how the Air Force provides exceptional athletes with the opportunity to compete at the highest level of their sport. The program is designed to maximize athletes’ abilities and give them a chance to represent the United States on the world stage. Since its inception in 1995, the Air Force WCAP has produced 13 athletes who have represented Team USA at the Olympics. The WCAP was created to recognize the spirit of American military athletes, beginning with Mal Whitfield.

A first in the world

Malvin “Marvelous Mal” Whitfield was the first active Olympian to win a gold medal. Mal joined the Air Force in 1943 as a B-25 tail gunner in the Tuskegee Airmen. He competed in the 1948 Olympics, winning gold in the 800 meter and 4×400 meter relay, as well as a bronze medal in the 400 meter. Four years later, he repeated his performance in the 800 meters, winning a gold medal, and followed that up with a silver medal in the 4×400 meters relay.

Mal Whitfield (b. 1924) won gold in the 800m and 4x400m relay at the 1948 Olympics. “Marvelous” Mal served in the US Air Force during the Korean War. He was the first black athlete to win the James E. Sullivan Award in 1954 for outstanding amateur athleticism. Whitfield has trained many athletes over the years and has organized athletic scholarships for over 5,000 African athletes to study in the United States. (National Media Museum @ Flickr Commons)

Marvelous Mal flew a total of 27 combat missions as a tail gunner on the B-25 during the Korean War. In his spare time, he trained between missions by running on the airstrip and taxiways. Although he was not selected for the 1956 Olympics, Mal remained heavily involved in the sport. He worked for the United States Information Service, running clinics and coaching athletes across Africa, retiring in 1989. Marvelous Mal died in 2015.

World Class Athlete Program

Mal’s legacy lives on in the Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program. This program has produced 13 Olympians and many more who have competed for spots on US Olympic teams. For the 2024 Olympics, WCAP has two contenders for spots on the U.S. teams.

Fencing

The first is Second Lieutenant Leanne Singleton-Comfort. Lt. Singleton-Comfort is a 2020 Air Force Academy graduate and NCAA fencing champion. Singleton-Comfort began his athletic career at the University of California, San Diego. She transferred to the Air Force Academy in 2016 and started competing for the Falcons. Singleton-Comfort distinguished herself in fencing at UCSD, enrolling as a freshman in 2015 and quickly qualifying for the NCAA championships in saber fencing. She then continued this streak throughout her time at the Academy, qualifying a total of four times. She has earned All-American honors three times and is a two-time NCAA West Regional/Western Fencing Champion, once in 2017 and again in 2020.

Cadet First Class Leanne Singleton-Comfort. (Image of United States Air Force Academy (@AF_Academy) Twitter.)

Lt. Singleton-Comfort originally wanted to be an investigator with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, or so she says. UCSD Athlete Biography. She has since made a few career changes, now acting as an assistant coach for the AFA fencing team. A 2020 article published by the AFA stated that Singleton-Comfort was to serve as “space operatorbut pointed to the fact that she was applying for WCAP. She is currently training for a spot on the USA Fencing Team to compete in Paris in 2024.

modern pentathlon

Airman First Class Tyler Evans is another athlete preparing for the 2024 summer games. A1C Evans enlisted in the Air Force in July 2021 as an aerospace physiologist. Evans is a modern pentathlete and has qualified for the US National Team and World Championships.

Airman 1st Class Tyler Evans, stationed at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a modern pentathlete and a member of the Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program, training for the Games 2024 Olympics in Paris, France. The application window for airmen, guards, reserves and guards, like A1C Evans, who dreams of Olympic competition, is now open. Once accepted into the program, athletes train full-time for the chance to represent the DAF and the nation on the world stage. (US Air Force graphic)

A1C Evans began his athletic career at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. At Canisius, Evans was a backstroke and freestyle swimmer, graduating in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in athletic training. After graduating, Evans added to her athletic following by competing in triathlon events. Evans quickly became a professional triathlete and was drafted into the first major league triathlon series in the United States.

Evans only competed as a triathlete for a short time before taking up modern pentathlon. Math geniuses will understand that sorting- is three, and penta– is five, which means going from a swim-bike-run format to a fence-swim-ride-shoot-run format. Apparently, Tyler Evans made this switch so easily that he qualified for the US Modern Pentathlon team the first year he tried. Over the next two years, Evans qualified for the Modern Pentathlon World Championships.

As Aerospace Physiologist, A1C Evans will be stationed at Peterson AFB in Colorado. As a world-class athlete, Evans is training at Air Force Academy facilities for a chance to compete in the 2024 Summer Olympics.

United States Army, Navy, and Marine Corps

The US military is the only other branch with its own world-class athlete program. Similar to the Air Force model, the Army WCAP was created in 1997 to recognize world-class athletes within the service. Notably, world-class athlete programs are not about developing athletes, but about showcasing existing talent and providing those with the skills and determination an opportunity, not to compete, but a CHANCE to compete on the world stage. The Army sends its athletes to Fort Carson, Colorado to train, while members of the Air Force train where most advantageous for their sport.

US Navy and Marine Corps athletes are allowed to compete for and in the Olympics, but must apply for special consideration to train. The Navy offers the US Navy Sports Program, a Navy-wide program that evaluates competitors on a case-by-case basis. Although not training for Olympic berths, the program allows Navy athletes to train and compete against other branches in armed forces championships.

Marine Corps athletes are encouraged to apply for the All-Marine Sports program. Similar to the United States Navy program, Marine athletes are not assigned to a “World Class Athlete Program”, but may apply to be selected for training. Those selected will participate in training camps designed to eliminate the best athletes in the Marine Corps. These athletes then compete against other branches as part of Marine Corps teams.

service before self

Prospective athletes must have completed the required training, including basic training, advanced training, and must remain current in ancillary training. Athletes receive the same base salary and allowances as others in their same rank and career field. Travel is handled through TDY (Temporary Duty) or TAD (Temporary Supplementary Duty) orders, and the respective departments foot the bill for their athletes. If and when the athlete is selected for Team USA, the sport’s governing body takes care of the financial aspects.

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