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World Class Athlete Program sends 15 athletes and coaches to Olympics, Paralympics

July 12, 2016 Updated: July 12, 2016 at 8:51 pm
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Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher will be headed to Rio with the U.S. Track team and will compete in the pentathlon. His events are swimming, fencing, equestrian show jumping, running and pistol shooting. He signs a U.S. Army poster for Kim Smith with photos of all the Olympians and Paralympians. Smith will be giving it to her son to put up on his wall. A press conference with most of the soldier/athletes was held at Ft. Carson Tuesday, July 12, 2016. photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette

U.S. Army Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher knows he has a high standard to attempt to meet.

The Fort Carson-based modern pentathlete placed third at the Pan American Games in July 2015 to become the first American to qualify for the Rio Olympics next month.

Now, almost a year later, the realization that he may soon compete in the event that then-Lt. George Patton excelled in has the Roswell, N.M., native excited.

"Those are very big shoes to fill," said Schrimsher, 24. "I just want to do the best I can and represent the U.S. Army and my country to the best of my abilities."

Patton, who went on to fame in World War II as the "Old Blood and Guts" four-star general, placed fifth in the 1912 Olympics when the event - based on the skills needed to succeed in 19th century warfare - made its debut. It remains the Americans' top Olympic finish.

Schrimsher credits his military training for his success, especially the physical fitness and mental training, along with the help of former competitor, two-time Olympian and new coach Staff Sgt. Dennis Bowsher.

They were two of 15 World Class Athlete Program Olympians, Paralympians and coaches introduced at a press conference Tuesday at Fort Carson. The WCAP allows Olympic-caliber athletes to remain on active duty in the U.S. Army and earn a paycheck while focusing on their training during the season and buildup to Rio.

That's critical in the less-lucrative or less-sponsored sports like modern pentathlon; which requires an athlete to compete in fencing, horse riding, pistol shooting, running and swimming all in one day with placings awarded points to determine an overall winner.

"There aren't a lot of sponsors in (Paralympic) archery and I see how the civilians competing really struggle," said Staff Sgt. Michael Lukow, an Alamosa native training in Salt Lake City. "It allows me to have a steady paycheck and support my family."

Schrimsher used the past 12 months to get ready for Rio, competing as often as his body allowed to improve when the event starts Aug. 20, two weeks after the opening ceremonies. He climbed steadily up the world rankings, going from 123rd in 2011 to 40th entering the Games.

But then the first-time Olympian, who grew up on a ranch outside Roswell, is used to waiting. He will attend the opening ceremonies and then leave Brazil for a training camp to remain focused on the competition.

"He has a long history in the sport starting as a youth, junior and now Olympics," Bowsher said. "He's been working hard and steadily improving."

He will be there for the closing ceremonies when he can relax and soak in the experience.

"I cannot wait to be among all these Olympic athletes and be part of such a huge international event," he said.

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