The 2024 Olympics are not far off, and potential athletes are already preparing to compete. Athletes in the USAF are no different, and an internal program is ready to help them down that path.

The World Class Athlete Program is the Air Force’s way to provide exceptional athletes an opportunity to compete at the highest levels of their sports. The program is designed to maximize athletes’ abilities and give them a shot at representing the US on the world stage. Since its establishment in 1995, the Air Force WCAP has produced 13 athletes that represented Team USA at Olympic Games. WCAP was established to recognize the spirit of US military athletes, starting with Mal Whitfield.

A First in the World

Malvin “Marvelous Mal” Whitfield was the first active-duty Olympian to win a gold medal. Mal joined the Army Air Forces in 1943 as a B-25 tail-gunner in the Tuskegee Airmen. He competed in the 1948 Olympics, earning gold in the 800-meter and 4×400 meter relay, as well as a bronze in the 400-meter. Four years later, he repeated his 800-meter performance, earning a gold medal, and followed that with a silver in the 4×400-meter relay.

Mal Whitfield (b. 1924) won gold in the 800m event and the 4x400m relay at the 1948 Olympics. “Marvelous” Mal served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. He was the first black athlete to win the James E. Sullivan Award in 1954 for outstanding amateur athletics. Whitfield trained numerous athletes over the years and arranged sports scholarships for over 5,000 African athletes to study in the US. (National Media Museum @ Flickr Commons)

Marvelous Mal flew a total of 27 combat missions as a tail-gunner on the B-25 during the Korean War. On his off-time, he trained between missions by running on the airstrip and taxiways. Though he did not make the cut for the 1956 Olympics, Mal remained heavily involved in the sport. He worked for the United States Information Service, conducting clinics and coaching athletes all over Africa, retiring in 1989. Marvelous Mal passed away in 2015.