The mission of the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado is simple: to provide the best training support services in the world for elite American athletes and maintain state-of-the-art facilities that will provide the means and incentive to achieve athletic excellence.
The U.S. Olympic Training Center resembles a small college campus. An attractive sculpture garden fills the landscaped area in front of the Visitors Center, which displays a wide variety of works of art and sports memorabilia.
The Training Center is home to approximately 120 resident athletes training for sports, running the gamut from cycling, shooting, fencing and weightlifting to volleyball, speedskating, gymnastics, boxing and everything in between. Many of the athletes' expenses, including room and board, health care, performance testing and consultation, are paid for by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The athletes invited to the Center generally rank in the top 10 to 15 percent of their sports. During their stays, which average three to five years, they have access to the best trainers, equipment and training techniques available as they strive to improve their strength, flexibility, agility and balance.
The athletes live in dormitories, with the oldest built back in 1963 and the newest constructed in 1996. But working in conjunction with former NASA scientist Dr. Mark Rosekind and Olympic sponsor Hilton Hotels Corporation, some 160 of the dorm rooms are being re-designed to optimize the sleep environment and give the athletes a competitive edge. Dr. Rosekind says the benefit of better sleep is real.
"With optimal sleep you are talking about potentially up to a 30 percent boost in your individual performance," explains Dr. Rosekind, "and a short nap of even 20 to 25 minutes or so can boost your performance by 34 percent and your alertness by 54 percent. There is really no other strategy that can give you that kind of boost in that short of a time. And part of it is that we know that when you look at performance boosts you can literally get millisecond differences, which for these athletes can be the difference between a silver and a gold medal."
Each of the rooms will be outfitted with Hilton's plush-top sleep system. The full-size beds with down comforters, extra thick mattress pads, down pillows and high thread-count linens are designed to reduce tossing and turning and improve circulation. An easy to operate alarm clock has been added, along with better lighting and black-out drapes.
"There are really five critical things you have to focus on," explains Dr. Rosekind. "In the physical environment there is dark, quiet and cool, which is really critical. And for personal comfort you want to focus on bed and bedding as well as an alarm you can trust that is easy to operate. So they have new beds, bedding, alarm and a whole new set of ways to control the light in the room."
In addition to the opportunity for training at altitude, some of the athletes are at the center to rehabilitate injuries. Their goal is to minimize time lost to injury and maximize the athlete's performance. The tools at their disposal include electrical stimulation, ultrasound, weight-training, whirlpools and aqua-therapy pools.
They are supported by a full sports-medicine staff, which develops rehab programs as well as providing strength and conditioning specialists, massage therapy, and sports psychologists.
Proper nutrition is another critical part of the training process. The Center provides diet analysis including personalized assessments to meet the needs of athletes in different sports. The Nutritional Service also offers advice on weight-loss and gain, hydration, dietary supplements and pre-competition meals. The athletes apparently work up quite an appetite. The Training Center's Dining Service says it serves over 270,000 meals a year.