SANTIAGO, Chile – The U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program displayed serious mettle during the 2023 Pan American Games from Oct. 20 to Nov. 5.
Eight Army WCAP Soldier-Athletes won medals for the United States, which boasted a roster of 631 athletes and led all countries with 286 medals over 16 days.
Five struck gold, with Spc. Khalfani Harris kicking off U.S. Army WCAP’s haul winning the 68kg weight class in taekwondo, Sgt. Ildar Hafizov capturing the 60kg weight class in Greco-Roman wrestling, Spc. Kamal Bey winning the 77kg weight class in Greco-Roman wrestling, and 1st Lt. Sam Sullivan and Sgt. Joanne Fa’avesi helping the U.S. Women’s Rugby 7s beat Canada to cap U.S. Army WCAP’s showing.
Cpt. Sam Chelanga, who had competed in the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 8 before entering the Pan American Games, earned a silver medal in the men’s 10,000-meter run.
Sgt. Ednah Kurgat won bronze in the women’s 10,000-meter run, and Staff Sgt. Nick Mowrer teamed with 1st Lt. Lisa Emmert of the Army National Guard to earn bronze in 10-meter mixed air pistol.
Sgt. 1st Class Naomi Graham lost in the quarterfinals of the women’s boxing 75kg division, and Sgt. 1st Class John Joss will compete in the Para Pan American Games on Nov. 17-26.
Harris reflected on his U.S. Army WCAP journey that he calls his “training arc.”
“It’s meant to be tough, physically and mentally,” said Harris, who recently moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, to train with USA Taekwondo. “But with persistence, consistency and patience, the possibilities are endless.”
Harris’ training arc resulted in his first international medal Oct. 21. He had a dominant tournament, only losing one bout en route to defeating the Dominican Republic’s Bernardo Pie for the gold medal in a close match.
“I was in no panic. I just have to remember that I’m an experienced fighter and also a very athletic player,” Harris said. “I knew that I would’ve been able to score given the circumstances of the fight. I stayed calm and collected, and I aimed and fired.”
That ability to aim and fire didn’t surprise USA taekwondo director of athlete affairs Sherman Nelson, who calls Harris a “taekwondo specimen.”
“He can do every kick from every angle, and he raises the bar on athleticism, kicking ability and talent overall,” Nelson said. “The U.S. is better with Khalfani Harris on the team.”
Harris isn’t sure if he’s qualified his weight class for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, but he feels he has a better shot at qualifying after winning gold. He also expressed his gratitude for U.S. Army WCAP, which he credits for making him a better Soldier, athlete and person.
“Everyone that I worked with at WCAP, even the other athletes that I’ve gotten to know have motivated me to achieve more,” Harris said. “Iron sharpens iron, and I’m really enjoying my time and journey.”
Mowrer was off target with a fifth-place finish in the men’s 10-meter air pistol Oct. 26, but he found his aim 24 hours later to earn the bronze with Emmert.
“You go home and lick your wounds, but you learn stuff, too,” said Mowrer, who teamed with Emmert during a World Cup competition earlier this year. “I came in with a plan. The plan didn’t work out 100 percent. I went home, slept on it, came back with a new plan, had my teammate to lean on and it worked out.”
Mowrer praised the chemistry between himself and Emmert.
“We come from similar backgrounds (Mowrer hails from Butte, Montana; Emmert hails from Houghton, Michigan), and as team members, we mesh together and rely on one another on the firing line,” Mowrer said.
Emmert, who won her first international medal, submitted her application to join WCAP. She believes WCAP will further her shooting career.
“It’s encouraging, and I’m excited to see where it will lead,” she said.
Chelanga and Kurgat continue to be among the world’s best long-distance runners and earned their first international medals. Chelanga captured silver Nov. 3 in 29 minutes, 1.21 seconds, while Kurgat ran 33:16.81 on Oct. 30 to win bronze.
Chelanga was pleased he won silver after competing in the Chicago Marathon less than a month before running in the Pan American Games. Chelanga placed ninth in the Chicago Marathon.
“Coming from Chicago less than four weeks ago, I was kind of tired and I knew I needed to pace myself to win a medal,” said Chelanga, who finished second to fellow American Isai Rodriguez and will focus on the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February. “It feels great to win a medal. I’m glad I gave it a shot.”
Kurgat finished third in a tightly contested race. She credits Army WCAP for developing her as a complete runner.
“It’s played a big role in my running career as a Soldier-Athlete,” Kurgat said. “I’ve been able to grow mentally and physically, and it continues to help me prepare for the Olympics.”
Bey and Hafizov earned their first Pan American Games gold medals Nov. 3 in dramatic fashion.
Bey, who was down 5-0 at one point to Brazil’s Joilson De Brito in the 77kg gold medal match, stormed back to score 12 straight points and pinned De Brito with one second left.
“Everything went according to plan besides being down 5-0,” Bey said. “I knew I could get this guy tired and just wait him out. I was waiting for opportunities to score, and when they were there, I took them. There is no better way to finish out a tournament like this than with a pin. It’s definitely something worth celebrating.”
Hafizov took a 7-0 lead over Cuba’s Kevin De Armas in the 60kg final and held off De Armas’ rally to win 7-5.
“I was expecting a fight, because everyone here who steps on the mat, they want to win,” Hafizov said. “I saw myself on the medal stand.”
Women’s Rugby 7s
Sullivan and Fa’avesi were part of a team that dominated the Pan American Games. The U.S. recorded four consecutive shutouts before beating Canada 19-12 for the gold medal Nov. 4.
“We weren’t surprised by our dominance,” said Sullivan, who finished the tournament with two trys against Jamaica and a try each against Colombia, Paraguay and Brazil. “That is the standard level of performance we have set for ourselves coming into this tour. Sometimes the score doesn’t reflect how we felt about the game, which I think was the case with several of the games this weekend. We got the result, but we still have work to do.”
While the U.S. Women’s Rugby 7s team will celebrate its gold medal, Sullivan said the team doesn’t look ahead.
“I won’t start thinking about the 2024 Olympics until the job is done on the World Series this year,” Sullivan said. “Momentum doesn’t win the next game. Work ethic and resilience wins games.”
|Date Posted:||11.07.2023 14:45|
|Hometown:||ALBUQUERQUE, NM, US|
|Hometown:||BUTTE, MT, US|
|Hometown:||CHARLOTTE, NC, US|
|Hometown:||COLORADO SPRINGS, CO, US|
|Hometown:||FAYETTEVILLE, NC, US|
|Hometown:||FORT CARSON, CO, US|
|Hometown:||HOUGHTON, MI, US|
|Hometown:||LYNCHBURG, VA, US|
|Hometown:||OAK PARK, IL, US|
|Hometown:||SACRAMENTO, CA, US|
|Hometown:||SPRING ARBOR, MI, US|
|Hometown:||TAMPA, FL, US|