2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  AMAZING AWAITS: TOURING THE U.S. OLYMPIC
TRAINING CENTER  IN COLORADO SPRINGS

FRIDAY, MAY 28

 
"Success is a journey, not a destination."
 
~ Bob Beamon, 1968 Olympic gold medalist in track and field
 
 
Although both Jim and I have visited the USOC training center in Colorado Springs previously, it's been long enough that we decided to take another tour this week. There are many new exhibits, sculptures, and buildings on campus since we were there in the '80s and '90s, and the current slogan, "Amazing Awaits," is different.

This was the first of three major Olympic training centers built in the United States and it has housed the US Olympic Committee offices since 1978. The other two main campuses with training facilities for our athletes are in Chula Vista, CA and Lake Placid, NY.

The training complex in Colorado Springs was formerly part of Ent Air Force Base and headquarters of the North American Defense Command. When they relocated, the site was chosen by the USOC in part because of its relatively high altitude (about 6,500 feet), which can increase the effectiveness of the athletes' training.

It was probably also a good financial deal for the USOC. Some of the existing buildings were remodeled for use by the athletes and others have been added over the last three decades. Major additions in the late '90s were a state-of-the-art sports medicine/ sport science center and an athlete center with a large dining room and two residence halls (photo above).

Other facilities include a large visitor center,

Countdown clock near entrance, below center:  789 days to London, 1349 days to Sochi

offices for the USOC and two dozen member organizations, an Olympic-size swimming pool (duh!), two sports centers with numerous gyms and weight rooms, a velodrome, and an indoor shooting range.

WHO TRAINS HERE?

According to the USOC website the complex at Colorado Springs is able to provide housing, dining, recreational facilities, and other services for up to 557 coaches and athletes at one time. They come from all over the United States and represent a variety of sports, including triathlon, modern pentathlon, fencing, weight-lifting, wrestling, swimming, diving, cycling, shooting, women's volleyball, and men's gymnastics.

Athletes who are training for the Olympics, Paralympics, or Pan-Am Games can live at the complex for several months or even years. Anywhere from 100 to 230 athletes live and train at the center on a full-time basis. While each sport's national governing body manages all coaching support for its athletes, the USOC provides elite athletes with housing and food, training facilities, sports medical care, sports science testing and analysis, local transportation, recreational facilities and activities, and professional development at an estimated annual cost of approximately $25,000 per athlete. The average age of full-time resident athletes is 24, although the range has been from 15 to 40 years old.

Up to 10,000 other athletes come for shorter periods of time each year with their specific teams for training camps, coaching, and/or physical testing. That's a bunch!

Our tour guide emphasized that the USOC centers do not receive any government funding for the athletes, staff, or facilities. Funding comes from generous corporate sponsors, the various sports foundations, and donations.

We were given several subtle opportunities to make a donation, but the sales pitch wasn't heavy.

As Jim and I toured the impressive facilities, we agreed that we wouldn't mind some of our tax dollars going to support the athletes. In our opinion there are many, many ways the government wastes our taxes; we see this as one of the more legitimate ways to spend it.

But that's just our perspective as folks who value physical fitness more than the average citizen does.

VISITING THE TRAINING CENTER

The 37-acre training center is easy to find at 1750 E. Boulder Street in eastern Colorado Springs. Guided tours are offered Monday to Saturday from 9-4. The tours and on-site parking are free.

As you've seen in the photos above, the entrance to the visitors' center is very attractively landscaped with plants and sculptures, including the riveting "Olympic Strength" sphere:

 

This sculpture of a female skater, entitled, "The Juliet," is a tribute to (and was unveiled by) Olympic figure-skating gold medalist, Kristi Yamaguchi:

There are several other sculptures near the entrance that I haven't included here.

Visitors, staff, and athletes also have beautiful views of Pike's Peak from the entrance and various points around campus:

THINGS TO SEE INSIDE THE VISITOR CENTER

When Jim and I visited we had about half an hour's wait until the next tour began. We used that time to browse through the exhibits and sports art displayed in the hallways and the large Hall of Fame room, to check out the official Olympic apparel and merchandise for sale, and to wander around the outdoor pond and flag display.

One of the first displays that caught my eye was a case with a 1996 Olympic torch and other memorabilia. I still consider those "my" Games.

No, I was never an Olympic athlete but I had the honor of carrying the torch in Stone Mountain the night before the opening ceremonies as it was paraded through the Atlanta metro area. I still have my torch, the clothes I wore to carry it, all my volunteer clothing, pins, posters, other memorabilia -- and many great memories -- from those Games. Those three weeks were one of the high points of my life.

Jim was quick to spot this case with the 1984 Olympic torch from the Games in Los Angeles:

Those Games have special memories for him because he had the honor of carrying a torch just like that one when it went through Springfield, IL. Back then carrying the torch was much simpler than it was in 1996. There was no application and nominating process, carriers couldn't keep or purchase their torches, and Jim didn't get a special outfit to wear. His running club invited anyone who wanted to carry the torch to just show up on schedule, and Jim got to carry it for about a block.

Although the application/nominating process in 1996 was more complicated and stressful (i.e., waiting to see if I was chosen to carry the torch and/or volunteer every day of the Games), I'm glad I have the tangible memorabilia as reminders of that time.

Some of us are bigger pack rats than others!

Continuing past the welcome desk and down another long hallway are many other photos and displays from previous Olympics. The names of the American participants in each Olympics are listed on one wall. Large windows look out on pretty ponds, more beautiful landscaping, and the Olympic Pathway.

Near the back doorway of the visitor center is a theater where tour groups meet and a large room with banners, murals, and sculptures honoring the athletes who have been inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame:

 

Here are the inductees from 1983, which I'm guessing was the first year the honor was bestowed:

The most recognizable gold medalists inducted that year include Bob Beamon (Track & Field, 1968), Dick Button (Figure Skating, 1948, 1952), Cassius Clay (Boxing, 1960), Mildred "Babe" Didrikson (Track & Field, 1932), Peggy Fleming (Figure Skating, 1964, 1968), Eric Heiden (Speed Skating, 1976, 1980), Al Oerter (Track & Field, 1956, 1960, 1964, and 1968!), Jesse Owens (Track & Field, 1936), Wilma Rudolph (Track & Field, 1956, 1960), Mark Spitz (Swimming, 1968, 1972), Jim Thorpe (Track & Field, 1912), and Johnny Weissmuller (Swimming, 1924, 1928).

Wow. What an illustrious group! So are the other years' inductees.

THINGS TO SEE OUTSIDE

You can see all those things inside (plus a film and the Olympic store) without participating in a guided tour, but we highly recommend joining a tour group to benefit the most from your visit.

Outside (behind) the visitor center, guests may view the banners, go up some stairs to see the Olympic cauldron, and walk along the Olympic Pathway but they may not enter any of the buildings or wander around other areas without an escort. We did walk around outside in the public area for a few minutes before our tour began.

The next photo looks back at the visitor center from part way down the Olympic Pathway, which is lined with colorful flags of 200+ nations. The cauldron is in the center of the picture at the top of the stairs:

The next three photos show areas just outside the back doors of the visitor center.

This is the view toward the Olympic Pathway and the other buildings in the complex. All along the Pathway are silhouettes of athletes in various sports, such as the speed skater crouched down below left:

My favorite place outside was near the ponds that you can also see from a wall of windows inside the visitor center. I walked around the ponds to get these and other photos before joining Jim in a shady spot to wait for our tour.

The wall of banners extends several hundred feet from the street side of the visitor center (shown in several of the photos farther up in this entry), along the side, and behind the building:

Here's another angle:

 

That was an ideal spot to wait for our tour to begin. Ahhh . . .

THE GUIDED TOUR

Folks wanting to join the next guided tour were instructed to meet in the theater at the appointed time. That day tours were scheduled about 30 minutes apart.

Our tour began with an inspiring Olympics/Paralympics highlights film in the comfortable theater, then proceeded outdoors for a walk down the Olympic Pathway (below) and through the complex.

We were able to see inside part of the sport science/sports medicine building, below,

part of a multi-purpose gym that wasn't being used,

a strength and conditioning room, and the pool (shown farther above).

Kathleen, our tour guide, was knowledgeable, articulate, and knew every athlete who passed our way. She introduced us to Aaron, for example, a Paralympic cyclist with cerebral palsy who was returning to his dorm room after receiving treatment for an injury he'd received during training that morning:

Because our group was large (about fifty people), it sometimes took a while to shepherd everyone into a building or spot outside where each person could hear Kathleen talk, but everyone in the group was mannerly and attentive. A new staff member-in-training also came along to learn how to lead tours this summer.

This was one of the quieter corridors where Kathleen had us stop for a few minutes to talk about various aspects of life on campus. I stepped away from the group to take this scenic shot of the colorful flags and Pike's Peak in the distance:

> sigh <   That's so idyllic.

After about 45 minutes (including the film at the beginning), our tour ended next to the Truce Monument in front of the athlete residence/dining area:

Kathleen talked some more about what the athletes' activities while living here. Then we were on our own to wander back the Pathway to the visitor center.

We stopped to read the inscription on the Truce Monument:

 The Olympic Truce: building a peaceful and better world
through sport and the Olympic ideal.

We also read a nearby sign that explains what it's like for the full-time resident athletes. Besides four to six hours of training and cross-training each day, many of the young athletes also further their education at colleges in Colorado Springs and/or participate in community activities.

As we meandered back to the visitor center we stopped inside a covered area at the top of the stairs in the photo below to read some inspirational quotes by various Olympic athletes; the quotes are painted on the walls.

Other visitors peeked through the holes in the Olympic rings or had their pictures taken on the winners' stands below them. That's pretty inspirational for kids who aspire to be in the Olynpics one day!

We were at the training center for a little under two hours and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fun to reminisce about athletes and Games from the past in the Hall of Fame, to observe some promising athletes who are training for upcoming world competitions, and to drool over the equipment and medical facilities available to some of the world's best athletes.

Man, we coulda used some of those rehab services the last 30+ years of endurance running!

In addition, the place is just so gosh darn beautiful. The grounds are very attractive with all the sculptures, Olympic sports cut-outs, national flags, Olympic rings and cauldron, ponds, tree/shrubs/flowers/grass, and nice views of Pike's Peak here and there.

I didn't want to leave! I wanted to be forty years younger and an elite runner who could live there for several years! (That sign outside the residence halls says some athletes have lived there up to ten years!!)


Walking back to the visitor center at the end of our tour

What a great place to visit -- or train, if you're young, athletic, and at the top of your sport. Just like when we attended the USAF Academy graduation, we came out of the USOC training center with renewed pride in the American youth who represent our country with honor and dignity.

The Olympic Training Center is one of the most heavily-visited places in the Colorado Springs area. We recommend you go on a weekday to avoid crowds, especially during the warm months of the year.

You're also more likely to see athletes training on weekdays than on weekends. They take some time off for relaxation, too.

For more information, check the www.teamusa.org website.

Next entry:  "Territory Days:" absorbing some history in Old Colorado City

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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