Military Olympians

A Look at Those Who Have Gone Faster, Higher, and Stronger

Pattonatright1912pentathalonThe Olympic games can trace their heritage all the way back to 776 BCE, when ancient Greeks honored their gods by holding athletic competitions. While they were ended nearly 12 centuries later by Emperor Theodosius, they were revived in 1896, and now have become one of the largest sporting events in the world.

Whether by athletes who were already in the military, or by those who joined afterward, the American military has long had a presence in the games. In fact, there have been more than 400 military members who have taken part in the summer and winter Olympic Games (the Army alone can claim 102 total medals for its efforts). We take a look at some of them through the years.

George Patton

The general is most known for his aggressive tactics, but before that he was an Olympian. He was selected for the 1912 games in Stockholm, where he competed in the modern pentathlon (shooting, swimming, fencing, cross country riding, and the 400 meter run) and finished fifth. It was the last competitive sporting event in which he’d ever participate, making his one of the (if not the) shortest Olympic career ever.

Image Credit (above): Source

Charlie PaddockCharles_Paddock

Paddock had served in World War I as a Marine Corps lieutenant in a field artillery unit, despite being incredibly young (he was born in 1900). After the war he attended the University of Southern California (USC), where he excelled in track events and became the first person called “The Fastest Man Alive.” (He ran 100 yards—a bit more than 100 meters—in 10.2 seconds in 1921, and no one would break that mark in the 100 meters until 1956.) He competed in the 1920 games in Antwerp, Belgium, winning gold in the 100 meter dash and as part of the 4 x 100 relay team, to go along with a silver medal in the 200 meters.

Image credit: By Agence Rol - Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public Domain, Source

John WoodruffWoodruff

The 1936 Olympics in Berlin are best known for being hosted by a certain German leader and for the incredible exploits of American hero Jesse Owens. But perhaps the most exciting event that year was the 800 meter race. Woodruff, who was a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh at the time, was the favorite to win. The only issue was that, in the early stages of the race, he found himself blocked in by other runners and unable to advance through the field. So he stopped—literally, just stopped—and let the other runners go by. He then kicked it into high hear, took the lead, lost the lead, then took it back at the final turn for the gold medal. He went on to serve in both World War II and Korea, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1957.

Image credit: Source

Archie WilliamsArchie_Williams_1936

Another member of that incredible 1936 American track team, Williams was the master of the middle distance, setting a then-world record in the 400 meters of 46 seconds. He went on to win the gold medal in the event in the Games, and then made his mark in the military: he was one of just 14 African Americans to be part of the Army’s aviation meteorological cadet program. He went on to teach both flying and meteorology at Tuskegee in Alabama, retiring in 1964.

Image credit: Source

Willie DavenportWillie_Davenport_1968

One of the most long-lasting American military Olympic athletes, Davenport participated in five different Olympics, including the Winter Olympics in 1980 as a runner for the bobsleigh team—which, due to the U.S. boycott of the summer Games that year, meant he was the only U.S. track and field athlete to compete that year. A private in the Army during his first trip in ’64, he went on to win gold in the 110 meter hurdles in ’68, fourth in ’72, and a bronze in ’76. He was a colonel in the Army National Guard when he passed away in 2002.

Image credit: Source

Glenn EllerEller_at_2008_Summer_Olympics

Even though he is only 34, Staff Sgt. Eller will be participating in his fifth Olympic games in 2016 in the double trap. He has been part of the USA Shooting Team since 2000, and set both Olympic and Olympic finals records in the 2008 games. Eller was also the first American to win the British Open Sporting Clay title—in 1996, at the ripe old age of 14. He is currently stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.

Image credit: By Tim Hipps - Public Domain, Source

Vincent HancockVincent_Hancock_wins_Olympic_gold

Another member of the U.S. Shooting Team, Army Staff Sgt. Hancock is proving that, when it comes to firearms, the American military has few equals. He won his first Olympic gold medal in 2008, in skeet shooting, when he was just 19. He followed that up in the 2012 games with an amazing qualifying round in which he hit 123 of the 125 skeets, and then went on to become the first person to ever win back-to-back golds in the event. He is a favorite to win yet another medal in the 2016 games.

Image credit: By The U.S. Army - Flickr: Army green wins Olympic gold, CC BY 2.0, Source

2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey TeamSledHockeyGoldMedal

The Paralympics started to give those with physical limitations a chance to prove that, in many cases, they are not all that limited. In 2014, the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team took its second gold medal, becoming the first nation to win back-to-back hockey sled golds. Four key players on that team were, in fact, former military: Army Staff Sargent Jen Lee (who was actually on active-duty status in 2014), Army veteran Rico Roman, Marine Corps veteran Paul Schaus, and Marine Corps veteran Josh Sweeney.

Image credit: Gold medal image is from Getty (found at

So as we celebrate our former military Olympians, let’s root for our current ones during the Rio games over the next few weeks!

Mark Dye

About the author: Mark Dye

Mark Dye has been writing articles, recording podcasts, and putting together books on personal finance for nearly a decade. His work has been recognized by the American Bankers Association and the Institute for Financial Literacy, and received an 2011 APEX Grand Award for Writing. Follow Mark on Google+.

Contact: Mark Dye


comments powered by Disqus