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US Olympics training center host to a full house

By Claire WalterSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 12, 1980



Colorado Springs, Colo.

Thirty years ago Bob Mathias was halfway between two accomplishments that still stand in the record books. He is the only athlete to have won two Olympic gold medals in the decathlon -- in 1948 and 1952. He subsequently served in the House of Representatives only to be swept out of office with the post-Watergate Democratic landslide in 1974.

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Yet it is Mathias's current position as director of the Olympic Training Center here which will most likely give him the greatest lasting influence of his illustrious career. He now stands to affect directly the lives and performances of America's amateur athletes who compete at the highest international level.

While still in Congress, Mathias continually pressed for sports legislation, and finally in 1977, the bill giving the US Olympic Committee authority over Olympic amateur sports and providing it with federal backing was signed into law.

"This is a lot better than Congress," Mathias says. "Here you can see your accomplishments. Being able to start and run such a training center has been satisfying. In Congress it takes such a long time to see your accomplishments."

It is hardly surprising that the USOC tapped Mathias to run the center. He had, after all, pushed through the sports bill and had run summer sports camps bearing his name. Still, his first job was hardly glamorous. It was to turn the old Ent Air Force Base into a viable training center -- quickly and under the watchful eye on the USOC, which moved its headquarters from a New York Park Avenue mansion to the center. Mathias took over in March 1977, and in June he welcomed his first group -- an ice hockey team.

"We've been going full blast ever since," he smiles.

Still, the renovation began as something of a crash program -- and it is still going on.* "when the military moves out," Mathias says, "they take everything with them. They didn't even drain the water out of the pipes.* The base had been abandoned for two years. Every pipe in 50 buildings had to be replaced, and we had a lot of painting, wiring, and general repairs to do. It cost about $20,000 to make each building habitable, and that doesn't include furnishings."

The 34-acre center can house and feed up to 525 athletes at a time. More than 5,000 spent from a few days to several weeks during the last fiscal year and about 7,000 are expected during the current one. In addition to the 13 barracks thus far renovated, the training center contains a new artificially surfaced running track and soccer field, pool and pool house, and weight room and sports medicine center, where athletes are tested biophysically and biomechanically and guided in physical conditioning and nutrition.

A gym with basketball and volleyball courts, boxing and wrestling rings, tennis courts and gymnastics facilities is being planned. In the interim, athletes are transported from the still-sparse facilities of the center to pools , gyms, rinks, and other training sites at the US Air Force Academy, local schools, parks, and clubs.

Most significant is that the USOC supports this entire training effort. The chronically underfinanced amateur sports organizations need only to reserve space and provide each athlete with a ticket to Colorado Springs.