Four New York Army National Guard Soldiers will be part of the United States Olympic team at the Winter Games in Sochi this February… Sergeants Nicholas Cunningham and Justin Olsen will be part of the United States Olympic Bobsled Team while Sgt. Matthew Mortensen and Staff Sgt. William Tavares are part of the United States Olympic Luge Team.
Olsen, a bobsled “pusher” won a gold medal in the sport at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, and Cunningham is ranked 17th as a driver..
Mortensen and Tavares both Live here in Lake Placid and Tavares competed in the Olympics in 1992 and coached the 2010 USA luge team and continues his coaching of the 2014 luge team.
All four men are part of the United States Army’s World Class Athlete Program in which Active Army and Army National Guard Soldiers serve while training as an athlete on a United States Olympic sports team. The Army pays them their military salaries, while allowing them to focus on honing their skills. Both the luge and bobsled teams train at the United States Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.
Mortensen, age 28, who enlisted in the New York Army National Guard in 2010, is a member of the 1156th Engineer Company based in Kingston. Mortensen secured his spot on the Olympic team when he and fellow Army athlete Sgt. Preston Griffall earned a ninth-place finish in luge doubles at the Luge World Cup stop on Dec. 13, at Utah Olympic Park.
Mortensen is a graduate of St. Dominic’s High School and has been a member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program since April 2011. He and Griffall won silver medals at the 2013 Lake Placid World Cup Team Relay race.
Mortensen said he was looking forward to representing the United States at the Olympics.
“It’s unbelievable,” Mortensen said. “I get emotional thinking about it. It’s been almost 17 years that I’ve been working toward this point, and for it to finally happen is like a dream come true.”
Tavares, 50, is an infantryman in Company B, 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry, which is headquartered in Morrisonville. He has served in the New York Army National Guard since 1982. He has been involved in the Army’s World Class Athlete program since 1998.
Tavares finished ninth at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games as a luge competitor. He coached the U.S. women’s bobsled teams at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics. As a coach for U.S. National Teams since 1997, Tavares has helped lead athletes to five world championships and 70 medals in World Cup competitions.
In luge, athletes ride small one or two person sleds downhill at very fast speeds.
Olsen, age 26, enlisted in the New York Army National Guard in January 2011 and serves as a personal services specialist in the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment of the Joint Force Headquarters in Watervliet. He is originally from Wittenburg, Texas and now lives in Lake Placid.
“I already represent my country,” Olsen said. “Now I have an opportunity to serve and represent my country at the same time.”
In 2010 Olsen was one of the three “pushers” on the U.S. four-man bobsled team which took the gold medal that year.
Cunningham, age 28, enlisted in the New York National Guard in March of 2011 and was trained as a carpentry and masonry specialist in the 1156th Engineer Company, based in Kingston, N.Y. He comes from Monterey, California and now lives in Lake Placid, too.
A fifth New York Army National Guard Soldier is a part of the U.S. National Luge Team but did not make the Olympic team.
Sgt. Emily Sweeney is a 20-year old member of the 206th Military Police Company headquartered in Latham, N.Y., who finished 9th in the 2013 Lake Placid World Cup. She lives in Suffield, Connecticut.
The Army World Class Athlete program was created in 1997 to help Soldier/Athletes excel at their sports. The Soldiers must all successfully complete required military training to participate. The program pays them to train full time and, in return, they host clinics for Soldiers and act as goodwill ambassadors for the Army and the United States at international games.
Since the Army’s World Class Athlete Program was created, 55 Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard athletes have won Gold, Silver or Bronze medals at the Olympic Summer or Winter games.