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DAF world class athletes train, compete for spot on Team USA

  • Published
  • By Armando Perez
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – Nine Airmen have their sights firmly set on the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics as they train and compete for a spot on Team USA. 

The Department of the Air Force’s newest crop of World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, athletes began training with the hopes of competing at the Olympics to represent the Air Force and the nation.

“These Airmen are among the top athletes in their sports and we’re proud of their commitment to serve while perfecting their chosen sport and, hopefully, represent our country and the Department of the Air Force in the Olympics,” said Col. Carolyn Ammons, Air Force Services Center commander. 

“Our team is honored to support them in their quest for gold.” 

Those athletes and their training locations are:

• Maj. Phaelen French, modern pentathlon, Colorado Springs, Colorado

• Maj. Daniel Rich, shooting, San Antonio

• 1st Lt. Jaci Smith, track and field, Colorado Springs

• 1st Lt. Leanne Singleton-Comfort, fencing, Colorado Springs

• 2nd Lt. Sam Fuller, water polo, Torrance, California

• Senior Airman Michael Mannozzi, racewalking, San Diego, California

• Airman 1st Class Mitch Brown, Greco wrestling, Colorado Springs

• Airman 1st Class Tyler Evans, modern pentathlon, Colorado Springs

• Trainee Sonny Taylor, boxing, currently in basic military training with a graduation date in January

“We have a great crop of athletes who are elite in their sport and dedicated to the rigorous training regiments necessary to improve their chances of making the Olympic team,” said Dale Filsell, DAF WCAP program manager with the AFSVC.

Most of the athletes have been in training and preparing for Team USA qualifying events since they were selected for WCAP in August. 

“Training is excellent,” said French, “it’s a tremendous privilege to be a WCAP athlete and a responsibility I hold dear.


“I’m fortunate to be stationed at the Air Force Academy, with access to some of the nation's finest sporting facilities and I’m grateful to the program for aligning me with a community of world class coaches and mentors,” she said. 

Despite some unexpected hurdles, French competed in one national and two international modern pentathlon championships over the last few months and is one of the nation’s top ranked athletes.     

“In August, I battled a bout of COVID-19 and recovered in time to earn a fifth-place finish at USA Nationals. I then took an overnight flight to earn 9th and 1st among my USA teammates at the North American Championships in the Dominican Republic,” said French. 

French’s perseverance and resilience were key to her current success.  

“Such a comeback in that span of time was a huge confidence boost for me,” she said. 

At her next competition, the Pan American Championships in Brazil, she finished 11th and was again the top ranked USA finisher.  

To capitalize on the caliber of training venues at the Air Force Academy, WCAP management operations recently relocated from the AFSVC headquarters in San Antonio to Colorado Springs. 

“Air Force and Space Force athletes are now in the heart of the U.S. Olympic training grounds to allow them to train and better prepare for upcoming competitions,” Filsell said, “and further strengthens our collaboration between the Air Force and the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center.”

Racewalking athlete Mannozzi knows first-hand how collaboration and comradery between athletes helps with training and competing.

“I am living my dream of training with other Olympians,” he said. “We share stories and experiences having been on over 30 USA Teams between us.

“Those who made the Olympic Team in race walking have trained with the group here at some point and I feel motivated to have this opportunity to train with the top USA race walkers,” he said.

Being in WCAP has also helped Mannozzi find new contacts in sports medicine and personal training, aiding him in his efforts to remain injury free.

Mannozzi is looking forward to future competitions and is excited for the opportunity to represent the Air Force and, hopefully, Team USA July 26 – Aug. 11 at the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad. 

“It feels like I am walking through a movie as I experience it all,” he said, “and I’m thrilled to represent WCAP at the inaugural Space Force 10-miler at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Dec. 10, in the lead up to the USA Track and Field 35k Race Walk National Championships.”

The Race Walk National Championships serve as a team selection race for many events in 2023.

To follow the progress of these athletes or for more on the WCAP program, visit and

(Editor’s Note: Although WCAP Airmen and Guardian athletes train full-time in their given sport, they are required to complete all annual and ancillary training, professional military education, fitness assessments and other mandatory tasks required of all service members.)