Athletes around the world held their collective breath as the fate of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was touch and go due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. However, Tokyo organizers remained determined to host the international event, and now the Olympics are just a few months away.
Many athletes have endured a drawn-out qualification process at home, but the wait is better than the alternative.
Two of those athletes are from the Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP). Wrestler Spc. Alejandro Sancho recently qualified in the Greco-Roman 67kg class, and shooter 1st Lt. Sarah Beard is hoping to make the cut before Memorial Day weekend in Smallbore rifle.
Sancho is ready. He’s been training for this situation since he was 15 and truly believes a gold medal is within reach.
“I’ve always had the mentality, that mindset that I wanted to be number one in the world,” said Sancho, a reservist from Miami, in an interview with Reserve & National Guard Magazine. “I think I have a pretty good shot at winning the Olympics.”
Sancho thinks like a soldier. His strategy starts with a proper diet and then a thorough study of his competition. He has wrestled most of the top competitors in his 67kg weight class but will formulate a battle plan based on a healthy amount of research prior to the Games.
“I’m going to learn all of my enemies’ weaknesses before the Olympics and make sure I capitalize on those,” he said.
Sancho’s parents immigrated from Cuba to provide better opportunities for their children. His father enrolled him in judo at an early age to channel his energy in a positive direction. That was his introduction to combat sports. Wrestling came next. However, at South Miami Senior High School, he began with basketball. The school’s wrestling coach had other ideas.
“He found out that I did judo back in the day, and he grabbed me literally from basketball practice.” He told Sancho, “You’re not going to become an NBA player, you’re 5’7”… you’re going to wrestle.”
Sancho matriculated to Northern Michigan University, home to the NMU-Olympic Training Site, and wrestled under the late coach Aghasi Manukyan, a former Soviet wrestler, world champion and Olympian.
“That’s where I started taking off in my Greco career at Northern Michigan University,” Sancho said. “He (Manukyan) taught me so much. He gave me the fundamentals of Greco-Roman … I have to give it out to him because he’s the one that started me in this journey.”
Sancho, the 2020 Pan American Championships bronze medalist, has known all along that an Olympic moment was waiting for him.
“I wanted to be something special,” he said. “I wanted to commit to wrestling full-time, and my goal was … to win the Olympics … once I threw someone on their head, I was like, ’Yeah, this is what I want to do.’”
Beard’s shot at an Olympic birth happens at the end of May. The Army signal officer believes she can achieve a spot on the Olympic roster in Smallbore rifle and take home a gold medal.
“I’m here to do my best,” she said in an interview with Reserve & National Guard Magazine. “That’s literally all I can do. I still have a pretty solid chance at it.”
Beard, the Pan American Games 50-meter Rifle 3-Position Champion, was hoping to qualify in air rifle but placed third and is now an Olympic alternate. Yet, she feels the experiences of the air rifle rounds and the adjustments she had to make based on her Smallbore training during those competitions will help her in the Smallbore final round of the Olympic trials in late May.
Beard began shooting with her father, Phil Beard, in 2006. He was a rifle shooter for the Army.
“I started shooting because my dad shot, and he was done, retired, from shooting,” the Indiana native said.
In high school, she asked him to take her to some matches and instruct her on how to shoot. Beard also began practicing in her basement, her father scoring her targets.
“I didn’t shoot very well at all, but I thought it was really cool that I could shoot with him,” she said.
She walked on at Texas Christian University (TCU) and ultimately became a two-time NCAA champion in rifle. Beard joined the Army in February of 2017 and soon became involved with WCAP.
“Ever since I joined WCAP…my basic thought on it …what I’ve taken away from it is that they’re willing to do just about anything to get you on the podium,” she said. “They’ve supported me in numerous ways.”
After Beard completed basic training and officer training school, she requested a transfer to the Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Georgia. The combination of WCAP, the marksmanship unit and USA Shooting has been immensely helpful to her, she said.
“Between WCAP, USA Shooting and the Army Marksmanship Unit, it’s been like just an incredible amount of support,” Beard said. “Having a steady paycheck definitely changes things because I didn’t have that before I joined. It’s nice to be able to treat it professionally. This is my job. This is my profession. And to have that perspective definitely helped a lot.”Read comments