road-to-2024-paris-olympics:-army-soldier-athletes-look-to-compete

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Spc. Khalfani Harris, a Taekwondo soldier-athlete with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, qualifies for the USA Taekwondo world team. (Maj. Nathaniel Garcia/Army)

A number of soldier-athletes are already eyeing to compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Spc. Khalfani Harris, a combat engineer and Taekwondo soldier-athlete, recently qualified for the USA Taekwondo world team in the light heavyweight class, according to a recent Army release.

“I was nervous coming into this competition, but knew I was ready to get the job done,” Harris said in the statement. “I saw so many openings to gain points and took as much advantage of those as I could, and knew I had to secure the win in the second round.”

Harris is one of several troops assigned to the Army World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson, Colorado. The unit affords soldier-athletes the opportunity to compete in elite-level competitions, including the Olympics, while also performing other service duties.

USA Track and Field also recently named three soldier-athletes to their senior world cross-country squad, according to another Army release. The trio of racers is set to compete at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships on Feb. 18 in Australia.

Sgt. Ednah Kurgat, who enlisted in May 2020, is making her U.S. team debut at the upcoming world event after winning a national title. Capt. Sam Chelanga, who joined the service in July 2018, and Spc. Anthony Rotich, whose Army career began in March 2016, also received bids to compete at the upcoming competition.

Sgt. Ednah Kurgat, a track and field soldier-athlete, is named to the USA Track and Field world cross country squad after winning the USATF Cross Country National Championships in January. (Staff Sgt. Michael Hunnisett/Army)

“I’ve been in the program for a year and so far, it’s been great for me,” Chelanga said. “It’s one of the best programs the Army has and I wish more people knew about it.”

There are several upcoming events on the road to Paris for the soldier-athletes, including various national and world championships and, pending qualification, the Pan American Games this fall in Santiago, Chile.

At the 2022 Beijing Olympics, nine American service members, along with a National Guardsman who served as an alternate, vied for a spot on the Olympic podium.

The 2024 Paris Olympics are scheduled for Friday, July 26, 2024, through August 11, 2024.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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