As the music swells, so do goose bumps on every arm in the room in the Olympic Training Center rotunda.
Directly beneath the local Olympic cauldron is the heart of the newly improved visitor center. Come Aug. 5 with the opening of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the Olympic Training Center’s own cauldron will be set ablaze and burn until the conclusion of the Paralympic Games on Sept. 18. But before, during and after this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, visitors can get a taste of the Olympic spirit. Cue those goose bumps.
“We’re incredibly excited about the new and improved visitor center and the experience it offers our guests,” says USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky. “We’re really hoping residents and visitors alike will come see us and learn about the Olympic and Paralympic dreams that take shape here in Colorado Springs.”
Those changes center on the rotunda. There a 100-foot-wide IMAX-style screen circles half the room and flashes 15-foot images of American athletes, the likes of Jesse Owens, Peggy Fleming and LeBron James. At 10-minute intervals, the photo album turns off and a film starts of iconic Olympic moments.
The emotional montage begins with the tense anticipation of athletes getting ready for their events: Apolo Anton Ohno circles the ice behind the starting line; Lindsey Vonn plants her poles at the top of the hill; Kerry Strug stares down the vault. Then the gun fires/the puck drops/the whistle blows, and the athletes explode into sublime action. Michael Johnson streaks by in gold shoes. Greg Louganis falls through the air. Shaun White floats above the halfpipe. As the competitors perform at the highest level, original broadcasting soundbytes punctuate magic moments—“Do you believe in miracles!”—and the tape is crossed/the wall is touched/the landing is stuck. Michael Phelps screams. Mary Lou Retton waves. Carl Lewis jogs the track with the American flag. The podium is climbed. The anthem is playing. The athletes are crying (if not a few of the spectators standing around you).
The American Olympic journey starts here at Boulder and Union where guests can glimpse the dedication that leads to the brilliant moments just witnessed in HD. The upgraded visitor center was opened to the public in June. Along with the movie screen, the rotunda includes interactive touch screens, so guests can investigate medal totals dating back to 1896 or check out the 2016 rosters for each team heading to Rio. Plus nine 60-inch monitors (configured 3×3 to make one giant screen) connect athletes and fans with Twitter and Instagram images of the #RoadToRio.
From the visitor center, a tour starts with another 15-minute film that peeks into the life of an athlete in training. Narrated by Bob Costas, it explores the OTC’s state-of-the-art facilities which guests get to explore on the following walk. Then it’s off to the actual facilities. Visiting the gym that hosts basketball and wheelchair rugby, inhaling the thick air of the wrestling facilities, rubbing shoulders with athletes—gearing up for the games has never been so cool.
Take a Tour of the OTC
When it comes to exploring ground zero of the U.S. Olympic movement, you’ve got options, from standard daily tours to those led by a resident Olympic athlete—you do have to reserve ahead for the latter. Get all the info here about the Olympic Training Center.
—by Kim Washburn