When Olympic athletes need to train, they may choose one of three USOC Training Centers: Chula Vista, California; Lake Placid, New York; or the flagship training center in Colorado Springs, where Justin O’Connell, ’08, M.S.A. ’12, is based.
As assistant manager of the training center, O’Connell schedules the facility’s gyms, pools and other spaces, and he makes sure teams such as track and field and swimming are able to train when they need to. Some teams, such as women’s wrestling, stay year-round in Colorado Springs. Other teams are more decentralized.
“I think it’s really unique to work with athletes in this environment,” he says. “I’ve gotten to meet athletes from every single country in the world.”
O’Connell says he’s inspired by the average Olympic hopeful –the one who is busting his or her tail and working toward qualifying for the team.
“A lot of athletes are actually broke,” he says, adding that they dedicate their lives to their sport, forgoing school, work and other pursuits.
Like O’Connell in Colorado, Nathan Kopp, ’11, works at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. The 155-acre outdoor summer sports training facility is home to track and field, Paralympic track and field, men’s and women’s rugby, men’s field hockey, BMX, and Paralympic tennis.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best sprinters in the world, such as Allyson Felix, Dawn Harper and Jeneba Tarmoh,” says Kopp. “I really cherish the fact that I get to see the side of athletes that the media and general public don’t get to see.”
Though neither O’Connell nor Kopp will travel to Rio, they’ll both be cheering on the athletes who trained so hard in their facilities.
“I am looking forward to seeing all of the athletes I work with every day compete on the largest stage in the world,” Kopp says. “I’ve seen the hard work and dedication they have put in over the last four years, and it’s their time to shine.”
Other specialized training facilities around the U.S. serve Olympic athletes, too. Before gymnastics Olympian Jordyn Wieber competed during the 2012 Summer Games in London, she had been training with CMU alumnus John Geddert’s Twistars USA Gymnastics Club in Lansing – since she was 3.
“Olympians are a rarity in the sport of gymnastics,” says Geddert, who attended CMU from 1976 to 1980. “Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of gymnasts will earn a spot on the Olympic team.”
Geddert was head coach for the Olympic team in 2012 and the world team in 2011. This year, he will travel to Rio in support of an Olympic hopeful representing Trinidad and Tobago.