The United States has participated in every Olympic Games since 1896, but 2021 marked the first time a U.S. service member won a gold medal at any Olympic event. 1st Lt. Amber English made history on Monday, July, 26, 2021 at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games by winning first place in the shotgun skeet event. Not only did she win a gold medal, she set an Olympic record by hitting 56 of 60 targets.
The US Army in the Tokyo Olympics
English is not the only service member to make the trek to Tokyo to represent the U.S. and its military in the Olympic games. The U.S. military attracts some of the country’s most talented individuals, so it is common for these individuals to find themselves qualifying for the Olympics.
In fact, the Army has a World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) that helps train high-level athletes, known as Soldier-Athletes, for international competitions with the ultimate goal of qualifying for the Olympic and Paralympic games. The WCAP has produced 446 soldiers who have participated in the games, earning 111 medals since 1948.
In the 2020 Olympic games, WCAP trained and sent 9 Soldier-Athletes to Tokyo to represent the U.S. The participants include:
- 1LT Amber English: Shooting – Skeet
- SSG Naomi Graham: Boxing – Middleweight
- SSG Nickolaus Mowrer: Shooting – 25m Air Pistol & 50m 3-Position Rifle
- SSG Sandra Uptagrafft: Shooting – 25m Air Pistol & 25m Sport Pistol
- SGT Amro Egleziry: Modern Pentathlon – Individual Event
- SGT Ildar Hafizov: Wrestling – Greco-Roman
- SGT Samantha Schultz: Modern Pentathlon – Individual Event
- SPC Alejandro Sancho: Wrestling – Greco-Roman
- SPC Bernard Keter: Track – 3,000m Steeplechase
The road to gold
After English brought home the gold, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote a congratulatory tweet to her that read, “Your country is extremely proud of you today, and I’m so glad you’re representing us.”
English’s journey to setting a record and making history as the first U.S. service member to take the No. 1 spot was not an easy one. After barely missing out on qualifying for the 2016 Olympics on her own, she worked diligently to make the 2020 shotgun team. She joined the Army in 2017 and was able to utilize the military’s training resources. In 2018, English took bronze in the World Championships and continued to prove herself a skilled marksman.
Shooting runs deep in her veins, as English comes from a family of successful shotgun competitors. Both sides of her family participated in shooting events. Her father and her uncle made it to the Olympics in the running shotgun event, while her mother and aunt shot rifles in college. Her father’s passing in 2016 served as inspiration for her to join the Army.
In a 2020 article, English said, “I knew I had to completely change everything I was doing in my life – I joined the Army, moved (from Colorado Springs, Colorado) down to Fort Benning (Georgia) and surrounded myself with a seriously winning atmosphere, so it paid off.”
The 2020 Olympic games are anything but usual, but English was able to prove her marksmanship regardless of the circumstances.