Once every two years, most of us are lucky enough to witness the talent, skills and determination of the world’s top athletes competing in the summer and winter Olympic Games. These events often spark fond memories for fans young and old, such as when U.S. women’s gymnast Kerri Strug stuck her vault landing on a broken foot to help her team win the gold medal in 1996, or when the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team won gold against all expectations. And feelings of astonishment and inspiration come flooding back when recalling Ethiopian Abebe Bikila who ran (and won) the marathon barefooted at the 1960 Rome Olympics, or when the first-ever Jamaican bobsled team competed in Calgary in 1988.
These mere moments of athlete’s lives are built upon years of dedicated training, injuries, failures, successes and gallons of sweat and tears. The United States has three Olympic Training Centers where many athletes live and train in hopes of someday stepping onto the podium. These centers in Chula Vista, California; Lake Placid, New York; and Colorado Springs are nongovernmental funded—relying on corporate sponsors, various revenue-generating programs and donations—and are open to the public for a look inside. With the Olympic winter games coming to a close and the Paralympic winter games just around the corner, here is an up-close look at the first Olympic training center ever built and home to the U.S. Olympic Committee since 1978, the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Aron McGuire, the director of the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center, acknowledges visiting as “an opportunity for someone that may not go to the games to really get that Olympic experience.”
The center’s entrance acts as an artifact emporium and offers a trip down memory lane as visitors gaze upon the torches, ice skates, medals, a bobsled and other paraphernalia used in past Olympic Games.
Guided tours are led year round and begin with a video of highlights from previous games and an exciting glimpse of what lies ahead. Visitors tour various facilities around the 35-acre complex and often catch athletes in training.
The Colorado Springs complex accommodates 120-125 invited resident athletes from a variety of Olympic sports, including swimming, men’s gymnastics, wrestling, shooting and triathlon, as well as Paralympic swimming, shooting, judo and cycling. In a given year the complex typically hosts 1,200-1,500 additional overnight athletes participating in short-term training camps.
The resources available to resident athletes are offered free of charge and are unmatched by those that one could find (and afford) beyond the complex. State-of-the-art training technology is utilized, such as a high-altitude center, where environmental conditions of any worldly competition site can be replicated. In-house coaching, strength training, sports psychology, nutrition guidance, meals and accommodations assist these Olympic hopefuls along the road to success.
The center’s tour guides offer plenty of interesting narratives, from the rigorous training regimens to the history of the complex. Most of all, McGuire says, these tours give “a better understanding and appreciation of what these athletes do on a daily basis and the years leading up to the games.”