American 'Olympia' attracts athletes from around world

By , a staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Pock! Pock! Pock!

The sound of field hockey sticks smacking the ball up and down the artificial turf carries over the ambient roar of the game.

It's the Canadians, in red, against the US, in blue, at the United States Olympic Training Center here.

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There isn't much in the way of spectators on this overcast late-summer morning, although a handful of Canadian basketball players who have dropped by between practices go through a chorus of cheers for their compatriots.

But it's business as usual at the home of the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, the city becoming known as the amateur sports capital of the country, like the ancient Olympia of Greece.

As befits an amateur sports organization, the Olympic committee has proved to be a prize whose value lies in prestige and public relations, rather than a great rush of cold cash. But the potential economic value is not being overlooked, either.

The Olympic complex here, opened in 1977, was given a big boost by the federal Amateur Sports Act of 1978. This law, passed by Congress in the afterglow of the national triumphs at the Montreal games, was intended to disentangle the jurisdictional flaps that had plagued amateur athletics in this country for some years. The US Olympic Committee was established as the central coordinating body for US amateur sports, and each Olympic and Pan-American sport was to have its own national governing body.

It was then evident that the committee's headquarters in New York City was too small, so the hunt was on for a new home.

Like athletes training for a gold medal that only one of them can win, cities around the country started campaigning to win the committee.

Long-time community booster and winter-sports patron Thayer Tutt of the famous Broadmoor Hotel says the victory for Colorado Springs was not easy. Despite the city's central geographic location and high altitude, ideal for training, ''there was resistance from all sides.'' Each of the national governing bodies had to be courted individually.

The Olympic committee received from the city, first on a rental basis and then as an outright gift, 34 acres that until a few years before had been Ent Air Force Base, headquarters of the North American Air Defense Command.

And so it is that in a clump of unostentatious made-over military buildings where the US Air Force once tracked Soviet satellites, the national governing bodies of each amateur sport in the Olympics are mapping out their future.

Fourteen of them have their headquarters there; two more have offices elsewhere in town. There are 37 national governing bodies in all, and another two or three of them are expected to be added soon.

The office space, computer access, utilities, and other services the Olympic committee provides to the 14 resident governing bodies are estimated to total $1 million a year. One of the amenities is an on-site air-ticketing office, courtesy of a corporate sponsor. The free office space enables the governing bodies to use their money for other things, and course it's a great convenience to have so many sports headquartered in one place.

Some 10,000 athletes a year come to the training center, including many from overseas, according to spokesman G. Robert Paul. Bob Mathias, two-time Olympic decathlon champion, is the center's director. The athletes' national governing bodies, or governments, pay their travel costs; the Olympic committee - to the tune of some $15.50 a day per athlete, covers room, board, facilities, training, and so forth.

It's a no-frills experience, but to the athletes it's worth it. One of the more interesting intensive-training projects made possible by the center was having the US women's volleyball team in residence for three years before the 1980 Olympics, in which, unfortunately, they were not able to participate.

US amateur sports still need more facilities. ''We need an Olympic hall of fame and a winter sports complex for training for speed skating, ice hockey, and figure skating,'' says Thayer Tutt. He expects they will be built in Colorado Springs - although nationally there is some feeling that another center should be built in the East.

The National Sports Festival, brainchild of Robert Kane, a former Olympic committee president, has been another important development for the training center. Launched here in 1978 as a showcase for amateur athletics in non-Olympic years, the festival was repeated in 1979, when it helped rescue a tourist season blighted by that year's gasoline price hikes. The festival went on the road for its next two editions: to Syracuse, N.Y., in 1981 and to Indianapolis this past July.

Olympic committee spokesman Mike Moran says the festival brought some 250,000 people and some $7.4 million to Indianapolis. The festival returns to Colorado Springs in 1983.

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