Olympic Training Centers take on new look

The Olympic Training Center, long idealized as the American

athlete’s home base in the quest for Olympic glory, is turning into

a for-profit operation, offering space for corporate outings, swim

clubs and other outsiders in an attempt to recoup some of the $21

million a year spent on the facilities.

The U.S. Olympic Committee runs three official Olympic Training

Centers – in Colorado Springs, Lake Placid, N.Y., and Chula Vista,

Calif.

Rulon Gardner has worked out there. So have Michael Phelps and

Apolo Anton Ohno.

But as time has passed, fewer elite athletes have been full-time

residents at the OTCs. Members of the women’s gymnastics team, for

instance, train in gyms across the country, then use Bela Karolyi’s

ranch in Texas as their base. Canoe and kayak has a training center

in Oklahoma City. And most track and field athletes work out with

their coaches at tracks across the country.

Recognizing this reality, the USOC wants the national governing

bodies of the sports to detail their plans to use the OTCs in their

yearly high-performance outlines. If the plans are in there, those

athletes will have full access. If not, the USOC wants to make sure

the space gets used and will put it up for rent. The USOC already

has made $500,000 on the program this year.

”We want to make sure NGBs who need it have priority access to

it,” CEO Scott Blackmun said Saturday after the USOC’s quarterly

board meeting. ”But after that, we want to do a better job of

monetizing the excess capacity we have over there.”

The USOC is spending $22 million, $16 million of which is

provided by the city of Colorado Springs, to revamp the

Colorado-based training center – an indication that the OTCs aren’t

going anywhere soon. The Springs center is connected to a visitor

center that the USOC is also trying to overhaul in an attempt to

draw more tourists.

But neither entity has fully lived up to its potential. Last

year, only 13 percent of athletes who used OTCs were Olympic

athletes, while 46 percent were not in the elite-athlete pipeline,

and so, the odds of a tourist running into a star athlete during a

visit have grown increasingly long over the years.

And as the allure of the training centers has declined for both

athletes and fans, the USOC needs to find a way to keep them

relevant and productive.

”It’s an incredibly important asset for us, in terms of being

able to communicate to the American people what the athletes are

doing,” Blackmun said.

The change in attitude about the training centers doesn’t

represent a shift in training philosophy, Blackmun said. The USOC

will continue to fund training in whatever venues the sports and

their athletes need.

”We just need to make sure the money we spend is being put to

good use,” he said. Blackmun said the latest change is part of a

shift that has been taking place since the 1980s.

Other business at the board meeting included:

-The forming of a national governing body for golf, which will

make its debut at the Olympics in 2016. The USA Golf Federation

will be headquartered in St. Augustine, Fla., and will be made up

of members of the PGA, PGA Tour, USGA and LPGA. USOC chairman Larry

Probst said he imagines the golf federation will operate much like

the U.S. Tennis Association, which is better known for its

non-Olympic functions – including running the U.S. Open – than for

its Olympic connection.

-Providing board members an update on the USOC’s progress in

revenue-sharing negotiations with the International Olympic

Committee. Blackmun and Probst reiterated that no bid for a future

Olympics can take place until this multimillion-dollar issue is

worked out.

-Discussing plans for U.S. women’s soccer players to travel to

Japan on a goodwill trip later this year. The U.S. women lost to

Japan in the final of the World Cup this summer.