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The Air Force World Class Athlete Program, managed by the Air Force Services Center, was established in 1995 to continue the legacy of Tuskegee Airman Malvin G. Whitfield. Whitfield, a Korean War tail gunner, became the first active-duty American serviceman to win Olympic gold in 1952 in Helsinki.
Unlike “Marvelous Mal” Whitfield, who trained for the ’52 Games by running on an airfield between bombing missions, today’s WCAP athletes train full time as part of the two-year program and compete in U.S. Armed Forces events, the Conseil International du Sport Militaire (Military World Games), Olympic Games and qualifying events for those games. Although WCAP athletes train full-time in their given sport, they are also required to complete all annual and ancillary training, professional military education, fitness assessments and other mandatory tasks required of all Airmen.
The inaugural WCAP summer session was for the 1996 Summer Olympics. Since its inception, 13 WCAP athletes have represented the United States at the world’s largest athletic stage. Many more have excelled in their sport at all levels to go on to compete at U.S. Olympic Trials. Prior to acceptance into the program, the national governing body for each sport reviews athlete applications and provides recommendations to the Air Force. The chief of Air Force Services at Headquarters Air Force is the final approval of athlete participation in the program.