At the end of every Winter or Summer Games, the U.S. Olympic Committee's leaders and a handful of selected athletes converge on the main media center for a wrap-up news conference.
It can be tense or testy, or loose and light. As the 2010 Winter Games ended last weekend in Vancouver, the U.S. contingent gave off a positively giddy vibe.
Sure, the American athletes had some disappointments, and a few seemingly certain medals fell by the wayside. But when your nation sets the record for most medals ever at any Winter Games, with 37, it's hard to do anything but smile.
Except maybe wonder: Where does the USOC go from here?
On one front, that's easy to answer. Already, the marketing folks are working on current and potential sponsors, leaping on this chance to capitalize on these successes.
What about the athletes? As much as the USOC has done in recent years, giving athletes and member sports more support amid a tough economy, that can't let up now. In fact, it may need to improve; after winning her moguls gold medal, Hannah Kearney admitted her sport (freestyle skiing) didn't have enough money to send a full team and coaches to their world championship in March.
Something else had to be a little embarrassing for the USOC. Several athletes talked about how helpful the Olympic Job Opportunities Program had been, especially for the many who'd worked at Home Depot. But that program, and Home Depot's jobs, went away in the downturn, and nothing has replaced them yet.
So as the economy recovers, there should be a way for the USOC to find local jobs for the Olympic Training Center's resident athletes. Perhaps it could be a task for the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., which could seek employers with the means and flexibility, then help the USOC match them with athletes.
Even more basic: The USOC has to do more to identify key details about its athletes, such as where they live, not just their hometowns. For example, the USOC lists figure skater Rachael Flatt as being from Del Mar, Calif., though she and her family have lived in Colorado Springs for nearly 10 years.
As far as NBC and its audience knew, bobsled gold medalists Steven Holcomb and Curt Tomasevicz were from Park City, Utah, and Shelby, Neb., respectively. Those places might be where they grew up, but they've been living in Colorado Springs. Tomasevicz even owns a home here.
Why didn't the media, and Colorado Springs, know that long ago? Why weren't Holcomb and Tomasevicz spotlighted among the most prominent OTC-based athletes? Why didn't we know about two Olympic women bobsledders, Bree Schaaf and Emily Azevedo, who placed fifth at the Winter Games and also are OTC residents?
The USOC and the community can begin turning that around immediately. A post-Olympic celebration is planned for late March, and it should be just the start. As personable and well-spoken as people like Holcomb and Tomasevicz are, along with so many other resident-athletes in summer sports, it's time to make those athletes much more well-known around Colorado Springs. Something tells me that the city could have its own bobsled booster club, starting now.
And we haven't even mentioned the figure skaters, whose depth of potential future Olympians goes well beyond just Flatt.
The challenge ahead is to make sure all those athletes feel Colorado Springs is their home, and to let the city know whom it can embrace. Our athletes should feel community support as they prepare for London's Summer Games in 2012 and Sochi's Winter Games in 2014, and even as they compete in national and world events each year.
Oh yeah, events. That's one more agenda item: bringing more national and international events here. How about a world-level women's hockey tournament, or short-track speedskating? The U.S. Boxing Championships returning in July makes for a good start.
Having the USOC here might be special, but having the athletes — and making sure they're appreciated — should mean just as much.
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