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Living The Olympic Dream

This feature originally appeared in the Oct. 11, 2008 edition of Army Football Gameday vs. Eastern Michigan.

By Mady Salvani

The Modern Olympic Games began in Athens, Greece, in 1896, but it wasn’t until the 1912 Games in Stockholm, Sweden, that members of the Long Grey Line were numbered among the competitors. They have been well represented, and through the 2004 Games, a total of 85 West Pointers participated in 14 sports in 17 Olympics. Just three, however, met the standard as a Cadet.

That changed in 2008 when Stephen Scherer and Stewart Glenister, members of the Class of 2011, became just the fourth and fifth members of the Corps of Cadets to compete at the Olympics when they had their tickets punched for the Summer Games in Beijing. 

It had been 48 years since runner Ronald Zinn (USMA ’62) represented his county as a cadet at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. As 19-year-old teenagers, Scherer and Glenister also made history as the youngest West Pointers to compete after qualifying as freshmen.

Glenister (swimming) represented American Samoa, an island nation in the South Pacific, and Scherer (air rifle) was a member of the USA Shooting Team as the two classmates were among thousands of athletes that participated in the opening ceremony at the Bird’s Nest.

Glenister, whose family ties are deep-rooted in American Samoa history, became the first male Olympic swimmer to represent his country at the Summer Games since the island nation’s athletes first competed in the 1988 Games in Seoul.

“The opportunity to go stroke-for-stroke with the world’s best was bigger than anything I’ve ever done before,” noted Glenister, who was picked to compete in the 50-meter freestyle, an event he rarely swims in.

An injury suffered in a pickup football games with his friends in his home state of Texas forced him from competing for American Samoa at the World Championships in Melbourne, Austria, his senior year of high school.

The repercussions weren’t felt until this spring when the American Samoa Olympic selection committee approached him about becoming the nation’s first male swimmer. He went through the application progress and submitted a resume detailing his first season competing for the Black Knights along with his high school and club highlights.

Chosen to represent American Samoa, his celebration was short lived after being informed he had no qualifying times recognized by the International Olympic Committee after missing the World Championships. Had he been able to compete at that event, there was a chance he could have met the standards in seven events. His times at Army in the 100 freestyle along with the 100 and 200 butterfly events would have met the IOC’s standard, but instead the committee chose his event, the 50 free, which unfortunately was not his forte.

“As a young swimmer, you always dream about going to the Olympics,” said Glenister, who was not going to let anything take away from his shot at the Olympics. “This is bigger than anything I have ever done before and it is pretty neat that I can say I went to the Olympics.”

Not only was Glenister accompanied by family and friends to the Games, but by Army swimming mentor coach Mickey Wender who served as the team’s head coach for the two-member squad. 

“It is the opportunity of a lifetime to participate in the Olympic Games,” said Wender. “It is the ultimate in my sport and I was honored to represent West Point, the Army and American Samoa at the pinnacle of swimming competition.”

Glenister splashed to a first-place finish in his heat at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing. He touched the wall in a personal-best time of 25.45 seconds to edge runner-up Hamza Abdo of Palestine by .15 seconds, third-place finisher Kyaw Zin of Myanmar by .72 and the other five swimmers in the fourth of 13 total heats swam in the event.

Out of 97 total competitors that swam the 50 freestyle, Glenister registered the 71st-fastest time in the field, while the top 16 times advanced to the semifinals

“The opportunity was truly an honor for me and my family,” said Glenister. “I hoped that I represented everyone that helped put me in this position with pride and honor, and I will forever cherish the opportunity.”

*   *   *

In a sport dominated by seasoned veterans and Olympians, ranging in age from their mid 20s to 40s, Scherer took the shooting world by surprise at the Olympic Trials last March following the best performance of his life. The Billerica, Mass., teenager had beaten a 2004 Olympic gold medalist and two-time Olympian with a three-day 10m air rifle total of 1994.1, edging his closest competitor by 3.3 points for medalist honors and a spot on the Olympic Team.

Scherer had no expectations at the Trials other than looking to test himself against a strong field that would prepare him later in the month for the upcoming NCAA Championships. He was as stunned as everyone following his performance.

“I was vey excited and I was trying my hardest,” said Scherer as a modest smile crossed over his face. “I probably surprised myself more than anyone Shooting is a very mental sport and it took a few minutes to sink in.”

Scherer was suddenly thrust into the limelight, but had little time to enjoy his celebrity status with the NCAA Championships fast approaching followed by a busy summer competing at the World Cup in Beijing, Munich and Milan. His next stop took him to Colorado Springs where he would spend the remainder of his time training for the Olympics.

Scherer enjoyed that period at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, noting in his on-line diary, “It has been a great opportunity for me to be able to live as an athlete out here and to focus all of my attention on training”

At the end of July, the two-time first team All-American and USA Shooting Team member headed to Korea for another pre-Olympic training camp. Scherer enjoyed the food and the hospitality of the Koreans, but never had time to check out the Korean cuisine because of the American style restaurants close to the training center.  It was far different from his trip to Munich where he sampled and fell in love immediately with the German food, especially schweinshaxe.

After spending a week of preparation in Korea, the waiting was almost over as Scherer and his teammates took the short hop to China in arriving in at the Olympic Village on the 6th of August.

“Everyone in the Olympic village was excited for the opening ceremonies and I felt very proud to be an American when we put on our uniforms,” stated Scherer. “It was one of the most awesome experiences walking through the entrance tunnel into a stadium of 91,000 cheering people. I was honored to represent the United State.”

Unlike Glenister, whose competition was in the latter part of the Games, Scherer did not have that long a wait as shooting was among the first competitions following the opening ceremony.

The lone teenager in a field of 51 shooters in the 10m air rifle event, Scherer shined in his Olympic debut firing a 590 to finish 27th. 

“I was pleased with my performance, and though there were a few technical problems, mentally it was the best game I shot and I was happy with that,” noted the youngster who shares his birthday with George Washington.

Scherer spent the rest of his time taking in the sights. After cheering on his teammates in the remainder of the shooting events, he checked out the other venues and was in the stands in volleyball, table tennis, field hockey along swimming and diving.

For now, Scherer has put the Games behind him as he looks back on his time there as a once in a lifetime opportunity, for his main goal in life is to be a soldier.

“I think that you can help people in ways that a civilian can’t by being in the Army. I feel a solider is the best representative for America in its role around the world of protecting and saving people.”

Mady Salvani is the Assistant Director for Athletic Communications at West Point.

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