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3 Olympic teams have soldiers on their coaching squads

Feb. 3, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program bobsled coach Sgt. Bill Tavares (right) and Army National Guard Outstanding Athlete Program Sgt. Mike Kohn peruse a timing chart between runs at Park City, Utah.
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program bobsled coach Sgt. Bill Tavares (right) and Army National Guard Outstanding Athlete Program Sgt. Mike Kohn peruse a timing chart between runs at Park City, Utah. (Tim Hipps/Army)
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Two-time Olympian 1st Lt. Michael Kohn will make his Olympic coaching debut for Team USA at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. (Army)
Staff Sgt. Tuffield 'Tuffy' Latour will lead Team USA skeleton athletes at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. This will be the fourth Olympics for Latour, who coached U.S. and Canadian men's and women's bobsled teams before taking the reigns of the U.S. Olympic skeleton squads. (Tim Hipps/Army)

When Team USA’s lugers get set to begin their high-speed quests for gold, pay close attention to who’s whispering in their ear. Chances are it will be Staff Sgt. William Tavares, one of three soldiers now working full time as Olympic coaches.

All three are already Olympic veterans.

Two-time Olympic bobsledder 2nd Lt. Michael Kohn, who struck bronze at the 2002 Winter Games, is an assistant coach for Team USA’s bobsledders. Before becoming the head coach of the skeleton team for the Sochi games, Sgt. 1st Class Tuffield “Tuffy” Latour coached both U.S. and Canadian bobsledders to Olympic medals. This will mark his fourth trip to the Winter Games.

But with Sochi marking his sixth trip to the Olympics, Tavares has got the most time downrange at the games.

Already a helicopter crew chief-turned-infantry officer, he competed as a luger in the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. After competing at the elite level for a few years, an injury ended his hopes for another berth to the Games. But his transition to coaching was a quick one.

“I retired as an athlete on a Friday, and they hired me as a coach on Monday,” says Tavares, who eventually had to resign his commission but was able to stay in the Army as an enlisted soldier with the service’s World Class Athlete Program.

Through the last four Winter Games he’s worked as the assistant bobsledding coach for Team USA.

When he’s not on active duty with WCAP, he’s an infantry squad leader with the New York Army National Guard’s 108th Infantry Regiment.

“Most of us — athletes and coaches — come from National Guard units and go on a three-year active-duty tour with WCAP,” Tavares says. “We’ll all come off active duty at the end of March and go back for a year with our regular units. If WCAP wants us back, we’ll come back on active duty around April 2015.”

Each of the coaches works for their respective national teams through the year and then transitions to Team USA as the Olympic squads are finalized.

“As coaches we’ve got our work cut out for us in terms of teaching them the track, getting them comfortable and acclimated to the environment of the Olympic experience,” bobsledding coach Kohn says.

“My primary responsibility is to assist the head coach. Being in the military, I know when the leader gets bogged down on the simple stuff, you don’t go anywhere. Your ship doesn’t sail. So I keep that stuff off his plate so he can focus on the big picture.”

Fellow military athletes say they appreciate having coaches with a similar background.

“We’re very close with Coach Kohn because there is that shared bond of being in the military,” says bobsledder Army Capt. Chris Fogt. “Kohn is one of the hardest-working guys I know. He’s training to go into Special Forces, so he’s out ruck marching three to four days a week, and then out in the garage with us working on sleds, watching training films with the drivers and then driving the truck to the next event.”

Fogt says Kohn will be easy to spot at Sochi.

“He’ll be up at the top of the run with us as we’re getting ready to go. He’ll be the one yelling and screaming at us to push faster.”

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