Tuesday, July 10, 2012
About 90 of the athletes headed to London for the summer Olympics got their training in San Diego. The Olympic Training Center opened 17 years ago in San Diego's second largest city: Chula Vista. It's located one-mile north of the Mexican border and a 20 minute drive south from downtown.
Golf carts are the main mode of transportation at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. It's actually the size of a typical golf course -- about 155 acres.
"The training I've been getting here is the best in the world, so having the best training in the world will make me the best in the world," Blake Leaper said. He's from Kingsport,Tennessee. At age 22 he's been overcoming the odds most of his life. Born with a congenital birth defect his lower limbs never developed below the knees. His motto for life is to "find the ability in your disability," said Leaper. "The doctor told my father I would never walk, I would never run, I would never play sports, I would be in a wheel chair all my life." Leaper never took no for an answer growing up and as a double leg amputee, he already holds the U.S. Paralympic records in the 100 and 200 meter sprints.
"The energy return on the legs are amazing, I gain energy as I run and as my race prolongs. So there's some good and some bad to the situation, but the fact that I'm out here just running is a blessing for me," he said with a big smile.
San Diego's warm weather makes this yearround training site perfect for almost any Olympic sport. Kayakers and rowers train on Otay Lake Reservoir right next to the facility, and participants in the newest Olympic event BMX dirt bike racing train exclusively here for the London games.
"It's kind of like the BMX mecca of the U.S.," said 21-year old Amanda Carr. She's from Punta Gorda, Florida and started racing at age 5. "When it comes to the race there's eight in the gate at once and there's no lanes. So it's whose going to get from the gate to the finish line first," Carr said.
BMX initially got its start in California in the 1970s when teenagers would imitate their motor cross heroes doing tricks and stunts on their dirt bikes. Is this more of a mental or a physical game? "I would say, obviously the physical component needs to be there, but at this level all of us are physically fit to win a race, I believe it comes down to mental," Carr said.
"The athletes that train here are not the big professionals you see. That's why they need a training center. They're not making huge salaries, they're not the professional basketball players. These guys do it because they have a passion for sport," said Tracy Lamb, director of the Olympic Training Center. It's run on public and private donations of about $7 million a year.
Lamb said despite the sluggish economy business is good. "We're the only country in the world that funds its Olympic program through private donations of the American people. It's a tough way to do business, but I think it's a great way to do business," Lamb said.
This sprawling complex hosts sports ranging from tennis and soccer to archery and women's field hockey. But take a tour and you'll notice only 50 percent of the facility is being used. Lamb says it's by design. "So we don't know what sports are going to be in the future, so we have some potential for growth. The athletes are here to reach their full potential and we're still striving as a training center in Chula Vista to still have growth.
The archery, soccer and women's field hockey teams have qualified for London. Along with 19 members from track and field including Paralympic sprinter Blake Leaper. "So right now I'm the top dog in the U.S. but I'm ranked second in the world in my events and there's this one particular guy he's really good," Leaper said.
That would be Oscar Pistorius from South Africa. The first double leg amputee to qualify for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. "He'll have some hype going it to it. I've raced him a couple of times, he's beaten me yes, but I know that the training I've been getting here is the best in the world and come the Paralympic games, I'll be ready for him, so he better be ready for me," Leaper said with a broad grin.
Unfortunately BMX racer Amanda Carr didn't qualify during the Olympic trials. The Summer Games start July 27th in London. And the Paralympics begin two weeks after the close of the Olympics.