New York Army National Guard Sgt. Nick Cunningham (front) jumps into a bobsled during competition in Utah Olympic Park in Park City Utah on Dec. 7.
Lake Placid Four New York Army National Guard Soldiers will be part of the United States Olympic team at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in 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, while Cunningham is a bobsled driver who is ranked 17th in the world.
Mortensen, a native of Huntington Station who now lives in Lake Placid, will compete for Olympic Gold, while Tavares, also a Lake Placid resident, who competed in the Olympics himself in 1992 and coached the 2010 American luge team, will coach 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. Of the seven Army athletes who will participate in the games, four are New York National Guard members. Athletes who enlist in the program attend basic training and become qualified in their military skills. National Guard Soldier/Athletes attend unit training drills when not competing.
Both the luge and bobsled teams train at the United States Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.
“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.