Athletes defend the nation in World Military Games

Events in Zagreb, Croatia, will feature competitors from almost 80 nations

August 05, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The International Pier at Baltimore-Washington International Airport was awash in blue yesterday as nearly 400 military athletes and coaches sporting blue USA shirts and toting Reebok bags got ready to board a 747 to Croatia for the second World Military Games in Zagreb.

USA crew shirts and tan shorts aside, the athletes looked completely different from one angle: their shoes. The foot coverings that advertisers would have us believe are an athlete's most valuable tool varied from sneakers to sandals to boots.

Army Staff Sgt. Sean Stroud sported flip flops on his way to the games.

"I'm making a fashion statement," said the 30-year-old soccer player.

For three hours, a line snaked around the ticket counters to the bottom of the International Pier. In it were pilots, doctors, mechanics and paper pushers from all branches of the armed forces -- the best athletes the military has to offer.

Many of the men pledged to defend their country's honor in games just as they would in war: "As long as we have fun and do our best, that's all we can do," said Sean Pittman, a 24-year-old Marine lance corporal. He is videotaping the trip and his volleyball games for his family in Newton, Iowa.

The athletes who made the private 747 flight from BWI yesterday will compete against more than 8,000 military athletes from nearly 80 countries in 21 of 24 events. The World Military Games are the armed forces' equivalent of the Olympics, but the competition will be a challenge for most U.S. athletes.

"These are actually amateurs competing against many countries' professionals," said Karen White, World Games coordinator for the U.S. delegation. She said some European countries train their Olympic athletes in the military as a way of making sure they have continuous food, shelter and sponsorship.

Some of the American athletes, like brothers Matt and Greg Provencher, both Naval Academy graduates and competition rowers, have trained for the Olympics. A few have competed in the games.

But most are like volleyball middle blocker Pittman, who hit his athletic high point when his college team went to the national championship.

The games begin tomorrow and run through Aug. 18. Events are divided into four categories: combat sports, military disciplines, individual sports and team sports. Some are similar to Olympic competitions, but other sports, such as orienteering, parachuting and naval pentathlon, have a military flavor. Naval pentathlon includes land and water sports with running and shooting events.

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