LAKE PLACID — Three New York Army National Guard soldiers, all Lake Placid residents, are competing in the Winter Olympics in coming days.
Sgts. Nicholas Cunningham and Justin Olsen are U.S. bobsledders, while Sgt. Matthew Mortensen is part of the U.S. Olympic luge team.
Olsen, a bobsled “pusher,” won a gold medal at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Bobsled driver Cunningham is ranked 17th in the world, according to a press release from the New York State Division of Military & Naval Affairs.
As well, National Guard soldier Staff Sgt. William Tavares — who also lives in the Olympic village — coaches the 2014 luge team.
‘DREAM COME TRUE’
Mortensen is proud to represent the United States at the Olympics.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said in the release. “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.”
The Lake Placid man, 28, who enlisted in the National Guard in 2010, is a member of the 1156th Engineer Company, based in Kingston.
He secured his spot on the Olympic team when he and Sgt. Preston Griffall earned ninth place in doubles at the Luge World Cup on Dec. 13, 2013, at Utah Olympic Park.
The pair also won silver medals at the 2013 Lake Placid World Cup Team Relay race.
‘CHANCE TO SERVE’
Olsen, 26, enlisted in the New York Army National Guard in January 2011 and is a personal-services specialist in the Headquarters Detachment of the Joint Force Headquarters in Watervliet.
He hails from Wittenburg, Texas, but now calls Lake Placid home.
“I already represent my country,” Olsen said in the release. “Now I have an opportunity to serve and represent my country at the same time.”
Tavares, 50, is an infantryman in Company B, 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry, which is headquartered in Morrisonville.
In the New York Army National Guard since 1982, he joined the Army’s World Class Athlete program in 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, he has helped lead athletes to five world championships and 70 medals in World Cup competitions.
Cunningham, 28, enlisted in the New York National Guard in March 2011 and was trained as a carpentry and masonry specialist in the 1156th Engineer Company, based in Kingston.
A Monterey, Calif., native, he also resides in Lake Placid.
Olsen, Cunningham, Tavares and Mortensen are part of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, created in 1997 to allow active Army and Army National Guard soldiers to serve while training as athletes on U.S. Olympic teams.
The athletes undergo basic training and become qualified in their military skills; National Guard soldier/athletes attend unit training drills when not competing.
The Army pays their military salaries while allowing them train full time; in return, they host clinics for soldiers and act as goodwill ambassadors for the Army and the United States at international games.
Of the seven Army athletes taking part in the games, four are New York National Guard members.
Since the Army program’s inception, 55 Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard athletes have won gold, silver or bronze medals at the summer and winter Olympic Games.