Seventeen years after it hosted the Winter Games, Squaw Valley, Calif. is once again the scene of Olympic activity. At the little mountain village near Lake Tahoe, the U.S. Olympic Committee has done what it should have done years ago: provided a year-round training site for athletes in all Olympic sports. At Montreal, the U.S. dropped to third in the overall medal standings—not only behind the U.S.S.R. but also behind East Germany, a nation whose population is about 8% of this country's.
For the past three months, athletes have been moving into Squaw Valley to begin their preparations for the 1980 Games in Moscow. They are, in a sense, pioneers, because the complex does not yet have all its projected facilities. The dormitories at the Olympic Village have been cleaned, carpeted and curtained, but for the time being many of the athletes are driven to high school facilities 10 to 15 miles away for training. However, Squaw Valley does have something which, until now, seemed much harder to come by: a sports medicine complex with an array of mechanical devices designed not only to treat injuries but also to test an athlete's potential. This equipment has been donated by corporate sponsors, including a treadmill contributed by a West German company.
The first group of athletes, 93 soccer players, arrived for a two-week session in May and immediately produced a new feeling of vigor and revival in the community. In 1960, the resort had gained worldwide fame with its "cozy Olympics," but it failed to take full advantage of the phenomenon. Skiing was a source of revenue in the winter, but in the summer Squaw Valley snoozed alongside an enormous empty parking lot.
Three American banks held the mortgage on the Village, and last October the J. Henry Schroder Banking Corporation of New York offered the property to the USOC. Colonel Don Miller, the executive director of the committee, and Doug Dunlop, director of planning, inspected the facility and, says Dunlop, "We decided to take as much of Squaw Valley as we could." By December, the USOC signed a $1.8 million lease for the Village ($12,500 a month over a 12-year period with an option to purchase). It also acquired the right from the Forest Service to operate Blyth Skating Arena for $22,500 a year with the stipulation that the USOC would get credit for improvements. The committee budgeted $350,000 for the first year of operation, counting on corporate contributions to help cover expenses and salaries. Doctors and assistants in the sports medical complex are volunteers. Athletes and coaches are put up free of charge; traveling expenses, however, are the responsibility of the governing bodies of each sport. In June, 94 women basketball players went to Squaw Valley at their own expense to try out for 24 spots on two junior teams. Only those chosen had a free ride from then on. A group of seven dedicated kayakers, a breed hardly accustomed to pampering, drove to Squaw Valley from the California coast in their own cars. Once there the kayakers trained mostly on their own, because their national coach, Andy Toro of El Cerrito, Calif., could not leave his job as an engineer except for occasional weekend visits.
August 21, 1977
Colonel Miller appointed Lew Whiting, a 50-year-old retired Army colonel who once ran the Modern Pentathlon training camp at San Antonio, Texas, as the center's director. Whiting arrived last April, with only six weeks to refurbish the Village before the first soccer players arrived. Two of the four dormitories are now in use, providing handsome lodgings for more than 300 athletes. A spacious dining room has opened for business at Olympic Hall, originally the Olympic recreation building. The billiard and Ping-Pong tables and a small outdoor swimming pool are in almost constant use and the Coca-Cola machines dispense free drinks. "It's quite a bit like a mini Olympic Village, without the tremendous pressure of the Games," says Whiting.
The athletes who come to Squaw Valley usually stay for two- or three-week sessions. What can be achieved in that time? Plenty, say those who have been there. "The athletes are exposed to different coaching techniques than they are used to," says Bob Davis, the University of Arizona swimming coach who worked with 18 swimmers at the 25-yard pool of Truckee-Donner High School, 10 miles down the road from the Village. "In the past, our swimmers often had difficulties adjusting to such a change. Here they are getting exposed to it. Furthermore, most of the swimmers who come to Squaw Valley are the best on their clubs back home. They have no competition. Here they train with people of their own ability."
Billie Moore, the women's basketball coach at UCLA who headed the team that won a silver medal in Montreal, says, "In the past, we used to have training camps just a couple of months before the Olympics or the Pan-American Games. That was clearly not enough. Now we have a development program going, with youngsters aged 16 to 19 who will be prepared for 1980."
The training facilities now in use include playing fields and a cinder track at Truckee-Donner as well as playing fields and a gymnasium at North Tahoe High School. For the rowers, canoeists, kayakers and sailors there are Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe. The USOC has leased vehicles to transport the athletes to the sites. If the traveling is an inconvenience, it also is a taste of what the athletes will have to put up with at the Olympics, where competition sites are usually a bus ride away.
The most recent infusion of money was a $100,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration, enabling the Village to plan for its own 400-meter track, a 50-meter pool and playing fields. A large Quonset hut is being converted into a wrestling and weightlifting facility. Blyth Arena still needs a fourth wall, because at the time of the 1960 Olympics an IOC rule stipulated that the skating events had to be held in the open air. With a portable wooden floor, the arena can be used for other sports as well, as it was recently for an international basketball tournament. "There are certain other things the Federal Government could do," says Colonel Whiting. "We hope to get more financing for a number of facilities, including a speed-skating oval and a luge and bobsled run." (Currently, the country's only bobsled run is at Lake Placid.) "It also would be nice if big companies like Ford and General Motors came up with tax-deductible donations," says Dunlop, so that "eventually, we could train all 30 Olympic summer and winter sports here."
Until such dreams come true, the center's major asset is the sports medical complex. Upon arriving, most athletes undergo a physical examination. The head trainer is Bob Beeten, who quit his job as a track coach and trainer at Idaho State last May because, "This is a worthwhile project which has been needed in this country for a long time." When serious problems arise, Beeten has physicians on call, including Dr. Dick Steadman, an orthopedic surgeon at the South Lake Tahoe hospital. There is also an exercise physiology department run by Dr. Fritz Hagerman who used to teach at Ohio State. Among Hagerman's gadgets is a Cybex machine. Sitting in a chair, an athlete kicks up a lever attached to the shin—once for an explosive effort and then continuously for 45 seconds as a test of endurance. The machine records the output of strength on tape. "The muscles are required to contract at different speeds," says Hagerman. "If, for example, an athlete scores high in the single explosive contraction test, then he has high muscle strength and is best suited for events of a similar nature, such as the high jump. If he performs better in the continuous contraction test, then he might be better advised to aim for one of the endurance events, such as soccer."
Hagerman does not expect a high jumper to become a soccer player as a result of the test; his aim is to measure the athlete's potential in his chosen event. "We want to establish a profile on each of them," he says. "We would like to, say, take a group of 30 oarsmen aged 16 or 17 who have developed in their sport to a certain degree. After the tests we can say, O.K., 10 of you have the potential to compete at the international level, the others are average. I think in the past we have often hesitated to be realistic with our youngsters, to tell them the truth. We don't want to discourage the average athlete, but I think it's important that we can recognize exceptional talent." Hagerman's findings are further complemented, by computerized biomechanical analyses. When all the data are in, the medical staff of the center devises programs tailored to individual athletes, using, among other things, equipment donated by Universal Gym Inc., a circuit of 46 stations featuring various exercises designed to strengthen every part of the body.
The sports medical program at Squaw Valley was put together by Dr. Irving Dardik, a cardiovascular surgeon at the Englewood, N.J. hospital and a member of the USOC medical staff at Montreal. His Olympic experience provided the incentive for Dardik to seek a scientific approach to developing world-class athletes. "At the last Olympics," he says, "the U.S. athletes were psychologically at a disadvantage because they didn't have a sports medicine program to help them. They were insecure. Frank Shorter, after he had won the silver medal in the marathon, said that he might have won had he had a doctor. Now we've got a program going."
Plans are already under way for more training centers, with Lake Placid, site of the next Winter Games, a logical location for a winter sports program. Later this year Colorado Springs will open a center much like the one at Squaw Valley. Bob Mathias, the 1948 and 1952 Olympic decathlon champion, who will be its director, has been studying the facilities at Squaw Valley. Mission Viejo, Calif. and Baton Rouge, La. also want to get into the act.
"Why not more camps all around the country?" says Dunlop. "We just joined the 20th century. After having been in its infancy for 56 years, the USOC is finally in the business of athletics."