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Sunday, September 13, 2009

A quick trip to Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center


I have just returned from a few days in Colorado to attend an International Association of High Performance Training Centers Forum at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. It was a great opportunity and I’d like to share my experiences:

Why has it been beneficial to live and train at a High Performance Center?

This week I spoke on an Athlete’s Panel for a Q&A session about the effects of high performance training centers on elite athletes. Representatives from training centers around the world, and specifically from Columbia, Ecuador, South Africa, Brazil, Macedonia, and Finland asked about our experiences while training at the centers, how centralized training centers help or hinder both our sports and us as individual athletes, and the pros and cons of living full-time at such centers in the US.

The panel was formed by a Paralympic champion sprinter, 3-time Olympic weightlifter, a US Gymnastics coach, a pairs figure skater and my self - together we represented Summer and Winter Olympic sports and the three US Olympic Training Centers (OTC) in Lake Placid, NY, Colorado Springs, CO and Chuela Vista, CA. We shared a lot of the same perspectives in our answers and agreed that what really makes this experience special and beneficial are the relationships formed with coaches and training center staff. It is through these relationships that information is communicated and progress is able to happen. Once an athlete signs on to this lifestyle, everyone from Sports Medicine to housekeeping staff become a part of your “team.” How you interact and communicate with these people, in addition to your own teammates, roommates and coaching staff can either clear the channels for success, or hinder and squander them. The sprinter commented that it takes a certain athlete to want to live and train in such an environment. It certainly does and I am grateful that I’ve been able to thrive in this environment. This is my third year at the Lake Placid OTC and its staff and resources have helped me rise from a Development Team athlete to a member of the National Team. It has provided a professional environment, both in which to train and to live, that has helped me mature as a person, athlete and team member.

A question asked by a man from Ecuador spurred an answer that I enjoyed sharing the most. He asked, “As athletes, what [advice would we give] to an athlete that is not able to train at a training facility such as the OTC, but has potential for becoming a successful athlete?” I followed behind the weightlifter who offered that the athlete should tap into the passion that his country of Ecuador has for sport, which is something she has experienced first hand as a competitor at their events. I added that yes indeed, training centers have a lot of resources, but this athlete can also look hard for those types of resources within his own community, such as doctors, mentors, sponsors and coaches. Before I was able to train at the OTC I benefited greatly from the myriad of resources that my home communities provided, and find that as I work to reach greater heights in my sport I value those community resources, and my own passion for the sport, just as much as the ones from the Olympic Committee.

Environmental and Social Sustainability in Vancouver

The following talk after the Athlete’s Panel was a representative from VANOC’s (Vancouver Olympic Committee) Sustainability Committee. Her presentation illustrated that VANOC, and in a few years London (2012) and Sochi, Russia (2014), are committed to integrating environmental and social sustainability into their planning and building of the Games, its venues, committees, programs, partners, sponsors, and volunteers.


My teammate Kat painted Vancouver's Games mascots on little pumpkins just after I published this blog yesterday and thought they would be a nice little addition. Thanks Kat!

I’ve competed and trained at the Vancouver Olympic biathlon venue, which is closely adjacent to the Nordic and Ski Jumping venues; collectively the Whistler Olympic Park has the smallest eco-footprint of any Olympic Games Nordic venue. [link to website]. Their high quality, world-class venues are also very friendly, inviting, accessible, enjoyable places to be. Their smart building design is aesthetically pleasing as the buildings and venue structures seem to blend into their surroundings naturally. The ski jumps are built into the ridge and are not noticeable until you ski to the base of the outrun. The simple and refined d├ęcor of the lodges are not cumbersome and instead lead the eye to notice the tall spruce and snow outside the window, not to indoor fixtures. The reason for compactly combining these venues in the Callaghan Valley (near Whistler) is that they share the valley with a large Grizzly and Brown bear population. From an environmentally sustainable standpoint, the small layout minimizes the disturbance of the bears both during the Games and in the future of the valley, (even though the road provides at least a few awesome bear sightings in the spring when they come to nibble on the new grass growing along side the access road). And for the same reason, when cutting the trails, the felled trees where then chipped and redistributed throughout the trail system to assist with drainage and leveling the terrain. I need to look into this more, but most of the venues are LEED Silver certified, and is demonstrated in these types of examples. (Click on he link to learn more about LEED certification)

The Committee believes that with planning ahead and planning wisely they can better a place for its people and its environment. Sustainability is most commonly connected to the environmental movement as in the examples cited above, but in Vancouver it is also taking on a social dimension. The same organizers that commissioned the use of pine beetle pine boards to be used in the roof structure of the Richmond Speedskating Oval, also partnered with Canada’s hardware company, RONA, to give Vancouver at-risk young adults carpentry certification and a job to build all of the necessary podiums to be used this winter in both the Olympics and the Paralympics.

Her colorful and engaging digital presentation was inspiring, and I thought at least someone in the Forum would ask a question at the end, but the room was silent. I had a chance to talk to Ann, the presenter, later about this and she made me feel more hopeful in that she understands that what VANOC is doing can be overwhelming and is a lot of information to take in. Ah, I agree and hope too that those who attended were instead asking themselves what their training centers, or companies, towns, and governments are doing to promote environmental and social sustainability?

One of the key elements to educating the public about the values and tangible benefits of be Silver LEED certified is to use Canada’s athletes as spokespeople for the power of sport to lead such change within communities and how we do things. Check out their website and see how you can play a part: www.projectbluesky.ca I think I am going to check out too and see what I can do.

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