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14 Olympic hopefuls could face military duty

PARK CITY, Utah (CNN) -- Nine U.S. biathletes and five bobsledders training for the Olympics face the possibility of military duty before the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City in February.

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They and their four coaches belong to the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, which provides soldier-athletes access to the world's top coaches, training venues and sports medicine, and opportunities to compete in national and international events such as the Goodwill Games and the Pan American Games.

But they are soldiers first.

In the event of war or national emergency, "they'll put down their skis, their poles, their bobsleds and helmets and put on their uniforms, go to their units and do what's required of them," said Harriet Rice, public affairs officer of the U.S. Army Community & Family Support Center.

Specialist Doug Sharpe, whose four-man bobsled team is ranked second in the United States, said he is ready to report to duty if he is called.

"But right now, it's 100 percent effort toward the games. Our job right now is to to get on the team and to win a gold medal for the U.S.," he said in Park City, Utah, where his team arrived for training Monday.

The Olympics open February 8.

Another teammate on the four-man bobsled team, Mike Kohn, is also a soldier in the WCAP.

The other two members of the team are civilians, Brian Shimer and Paul Wise. Their futures are hanging in limbo as well, said Paulette Freese, manager of the World Class Athlete Program.

Wise said he had considered only Kohn and Sharpe as teammates until being questioned by CNN.

"I never thought the September 11 tragedy would happen in my lifetime," said Wise. "I never dreamt anything like this could happen, and that I'd be training for the Olympics. It's just strange that two active Army athletes could be called to duty."

Specialist Jill Bakken, whose two-man bobsled team is ranked third in the world, said the military has given orders to focus on Olympic training and represent the Army.

"Whatever happens, happens," she said. "We just have to keep focused on our training right now."

Bakken and her team are making history in other ways. This is the first time in Olympics history that women will compete in the bobsled competition.

Under WCAP, soldiers are accepted two to three years before the summer and winter Olympic games.

Once the games are over, soldiers return to regular military duties. The program currently has 70 soldier-athletes, most of whom are training in summer sports for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.


• Salt Lake City Winter Olympics 2002

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