Friday, January 31, 2014

Olympic Blurb: My Visit to the U.S. Olympic Training Center

Today I had the chance to spend some time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Ever since I knew I’d be teaching in the Denver area, I knew that one of my field trips was going to be there.


There wasn’t a special tour for us; we simply joined in a regular tour group that starts every hour. My group arrived half an hour early, which gave us plenty of time to look around the outside entrance and inside the visitor’s building.


The outside is known as a “sculpture garden” with various statues. Some of these include the five large Olympic rings set in a white wall. (I’ve had my picture on this many times.) Another includes two men and two women jumping for joy - this is a cool one because the two women aren’t even touching the ground, yet the sculpture is perfectly balanced. The final large scuplture is four athletes holding the globe on their backs - very similar to the Atlas sculpture.


Inside the visitor’s building are several displays of paraphernalia from past Olympics: torches from the 1984, 1996, 2002, and 2006 Olympics, coins, tickets, shoes and uniforms worn by athletes, and more. Some of the items - including a bobsled from 2002 - are available to touch and get inside. But the coolest thing I saw were the two petals from the 2012 Olympic cauldron - you know, the one that had several hundred petals that all moved up together to create the cauldron? Each country got two petals, and I got to see them in their charred, burned-out glory!






The kids got to have fun on some hands-on equipment, like the aforementioned bobsled, some exercise bikes, two rowing machines, and some barbells that weren’t as heavy as they looked (but don’t tell the kids that).


The tour starts with a movie. Each time it’s been different - that’s because the movie looks back on the most recent past Olympics (Winter or Summer, depending on which is coming up) and looks forward to the closest future Olympics. This year, the “looking-back” video focused on the 2010 Vancouver Games, which was great, since my class had just spent the past week watching NBC’s highlight DVD from Vancouver, so they recognized many of the athletes and events. In true heartstring-tugging-style, they used the theme music from “Remember the Titans.” If you don’t tear up from that music, you have no soul.


Then they had a montage of athletes who are competing this year - it was kind of an older video, since both Evan Lysacek and Lindsay Vonn were in it, and both of them had to pull out due to injury. But it was still fun to see.


After the video, our tour guide - likely a college student from one of the local colleges or universities - started us on the tour. Most of the tour is outside as we walk down a long concourse. On the concourse are signs talking about many of the Olympic events, as well as cutout silhouettes of athletes doing various events that you can pose next to. (Fun fact: in 2005 next to the hurdling silhouette I posed like I had tripped on the hurdle and was going down. I pulled a Lolo Jones three years before she did it!)


The flags of the participating Olympic countries are also displayed in alphabetical order. Some of them were missing on this trip because they are busy constructing a new strength and training center. They need it - their current weight room is ridiculously small (more on that in a bit).


We went inside some of the buildings and stood outside others. We got the chance to go into Sports Center 1, where an international Greco-Roman wrestling tournament was taking place. Our guide took us up the stairs, and we could look down from the mezzanine onto the four mats that were placed on the gym floor. The kids were really good at this part, mostly because they were mesmerized by the sport and had lots of questions. Our guide pointed out Steve Fraser, the head coach of the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics (and who went to the University of Michigan!).


Because of this event, there were many international athletes all over the place in their gear. We saw athletes from Switzerland, China, Honduras, Kazakhstan, and more. That was really cool.


We next went into the shooting building, where our U.S. shooting team trains. In the facility was athlete Sarah Scherer (I believe that’s what the guide said), who competed in London in 2012.


After the shooting facility, we went into the weight training building. In this area there were many athletes, but the one closest to the observation window was Lopez Lomong, who is a 1500m and 5000m runner for the U.S. and carried the flag for the United States in the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Summer Games! He competed in both Beijing and London, and is still training hard. It was very cool to see him there.


We saw the basketball courts and swimming pool from the outside before wrapping up our tour in front of the athlete residence center. If I ever get to know a U.S. athlete, I’m going to beg to eat in that dining facility, because it sounds amazing.


After the tour we moseyed back to the visitor’s center and took a look inside the gift shop, full of incredibly overpriced clothing and other merchandise with the Olympic and U.S.O.C. logos on them.


I enjoyed taking the kids to this Olympic Training Center. I don’t think it makes a good full-day tourist stop, but I think it could be easily combined with other wonderful Colorado Springs tourist areas for a great day. Start with something like Pike’s Peak or Garden of the Gods in the morning, and follow it up with a tour of the Olympic Training Center in the afternoon when the normal afternoon clouds start rolling in!


And who knows - you may see a famous Olympic athlete during your visit!