On a weekend when the U.S. Olympic Committee had some hefty items on its agenda, you wouldn't have expected Colorado Springs to become part of the conversation.
After all, the USOC and its member sports are immersed in their buildup toward the 2012 Summer Olympics, now not even 10 months away. At one session of the annual Olympic Assembly at the Antlers Hotel, USOC president Larry Probst talked confidently about American athletes' chances in the medals race next year in London.
During the keynote dinner with NBC sports star Bob Costas, a headline came from the ice-sports world: 2010 Olympic figure-skating champion Evan Lysacek announced he will return to seek a second consecutive gold medal at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
And as the weekend gathering wound down last Saturday, Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun and Probst talked about golf now having a U.S. governing body to oversee its return to the Olympics in 2016, after a 112-year absence. They also reaffirmed that any serious talk of American bids for future Olympics, including perhaps Denver for the 2022 Winter Games, will not take place until after the USOC and the International Olympic Committee agree on a new way to share revenue, most from U.S. television rights.
Then the subject arose of Olympic Training Centers, and just how much they will continue to mean to the USOC in years ahead. From the responses, it should be totally clear that the USOC's three training centers, but in particular the largest one here, still have as much priority as ever — if not more.
If you care about Colorado Springs, the news couldn't be more promising, though some specifics are a little surprising.
Since the OTC first opened here in 1977, Blackmun confirmed, it has operated on a first-come, first-served basis. Different sports would reserve beds and training facilities for resident athletes, or for training camps, team selections or other purposes. If the center was full, as it could be at busy times, then a sport with an unexpected need might have to look elsewhere. At other times, when demand would be down, the center might have many vacancies. But, as Blackmun put it, most resident athletes weren't part of an official "high-performance plan," based on progress and results.
That's changing. Blackmun outlined a plan of working with any sports that might use the training centers. If they need beds and facilities, and they've shown that it will help lead directly to improved Olympic outcomes, those sports will move to the front of the line. The result, Blackmun says, should be more elite-level athletes using the training centers here, in Lake Placid, N.Y., and in Chula Vista, Calif.
But when the OTCs aren't filled to capacity, the USOC is taking a new approach — using them as "revenue generators," basically renting the rooms and facilities to sports teams and groups outside the Olympic sphere, as well as giving corporate sponsors a chance to use them (for a price, of course). The goal for 2011 was for the OTCs to produce $500,000 from those other users, and Blackmun says the USOC will surpass that, with bigger projections for 2012.
That means more visitors, more airport traffic, more money, perhaps more local people seeing the OTC firsthand.
And along with the many thousands of tourists, they'll have more to enjoy at the Olympic Complex's soon-to-be-expanded visitors center. Blackmun provided fresh details:
Dick Ebersol, who just stepped down after years guiding NBC's Olympic coverage, will coordinate putting together an experience for visitors, giving everyone the chance to see demonstration and Olympic videos from every sport, capped by inspiring stories of past Olympians. As Blackmun put it, "We want to do more to tell those stories and connect the visitor to the athlete."
From the USOC perspective, it's a way to better showcase its history. From the Colorado Springs perspective, it should reshape the USOC visitors center into a much more appealing and marketable tourist attraction.
And for those who wondered if that deal to keep the USOC here for at least 30 years would be worth the cost, this looks like your answer.
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