Olympic training contract renewed

Mark Merritt

Northern Michigan University and the U.S. Olympic Committee agreed on Friday to renew a contract and transform NMU’s United States Olympic Education Center into an Olympic training site for student athletes.

Due to the USOC contract being renewed, the Greco-Roman wrestling team was able to still hold the international training week this season, similar to the training week held with the Navy in the past. (NW File Photo)

Formerly known as the USOEC, NMU’s training site has hosted approximately 25,000 athletes from more than 40 countries for nearly 30 years.

“We are pleased to continue playing an important role in the development and education of elite athletes training for the Olympics,” President David Haynes said in a press release. “While the training site has changed over the years, the goal to provide high quality educational opportunities to world-class athletes has not.”

Under the title of USOEC, NMU’s student athletes have competed and trained in 29 different events, including speedskating, boxing and archery. However, recent reorganization within the U.S. Olympic Committee has prompted the center to retire the USOEC moniker and primarily focus on weightlifting and Greco-Roman wrestling.

“Greco-Roman wrestling has been on our campus now for quite a while, so the program has been established,” said NMU Director of Communications Cindy Paavola. “[NMU] has become very well recognized across the country as a good place for young athletes who want to train at the elite level.”

In the past, the USOEC was funded primarily through the U.S. Olympic Committee, an organization that once wished to place several centers around different geographic areas of the nation. The committee has since moved away from the idea of all-encompassing centers due to funding concerns and has instead opted to create multiple training sites which provide more focus, more equipment and more training facilities that are designated to specific sports, Paavola said.

“NMU as a training center and now training site has always been well-regarded in the Olympic family,” said Interim Olympic Training Site Director Brian Gaudreau. “Our track record for producing Olympic quality, medal-winning athletes is well documented and continues to be a staple in the Olympic movement.”

Gaudreau said the loss of the Olympic program’s tentative nature is one of the biggest differences caused by transitioning from a center to a site.

“It is so difficult to operate when the future is always in question. How do you recruit quality student athletes when you can’t assure that student athlete that the program will be here in the coming year?

“The security of a contract helps the student athlete concentrate on being a great student and a great Olympic athlete.”

NMU is currently one of 16 Olympic training sites throughout the country and hosts a total of 69 athletes—43 Greco-Roman wrestlers and 26 weightlifters—all of whom live and train on campus while attending the university.

Resident athletes must be approved by the Olympic Training Site staff, their national governing body and the university to be admitted into the program. While living on campus, athletes are granted reduced room and board at the university’s Meyland Hall, academic tutoring and access to training equipment. They are, however, responsible for travel expenses and in-state tuition costs.

The idea of bringing an Olympic training center to NMU originated 1965, but it wasn’t until 20 years later that the plan became reality. In 1989, the center’s dedication to both world-class training and educational opportunities led to the foundation of the country’s first Olympic education center.

Out of the 66 NMU-affiliated athletes who have competed in the Olympic Games, another 24 have seized 35 medals.

However, the accomplishments extend beyond athletic achievements. Student athletes have demonstrated academic prowess as well. Since 1985, those who’ve received Olympic training at NMU have earned more than 100 high school diplomas and college degrees.

“The thing that has always made NMU stand out has been its ability to prepare athletes for life beyond Olympic competition,” said Gaudreau. “Quality education has prepared young men and women to be successful when their Olympic careers have ended.”

According to its mission statement, NMU’s Olympic Training Site strives to not only provide student athletes with exceptional training facilities, but also with the skills necessary for becoming productive, independent-minded citizens.