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OTC Farewell: Former Resident Athletes Reminisce

By Kevin Farley | Sept. 27, 2016, 5:15 p.m. (ET)

After decades of training Olympians, the Weightlifting Resident Program at the U.S. Olympic Training Center will end September 30, 2016. This week, we're looking back at the special moments this special place created.

Read more about the U.S. Olympic Committee's decision here. 

For elite athletes in America, there is no place more special than crafting their skills at the Olympic Training Center. For a select few athletes, the OTC was where their Olympic dreams came true.

For decades, USA Weightlifting hosted thousands of athletes of all skill levels. Among those, hundreds of elite athletes trained at the Weightlifting resident athlete program U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. 

"I have a really long history in this room," longtime resident athlete Jackie Black said. "This is a significant part of my life, in this room."

Athletes with OTC Resident Coach and 1972 Olympic Gold Medalist Zygmunt Smalcerz.

At the southeast corner of Sports Center 2 at the OTC, sits the USA Weightlifting gym. Warm-up platforms from the 2015 International Weightlifting Federation World Championships in Houston line perimeter of this special place. A set of three garage doors provide natural light that fills the gym. Posters from past Olympic Games and world championships adorn the walls of the gym. At the center of the room, a platform from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and serves as a symbol of the athlete's Olympic aspirations.

But the OTC gym wasn't always so welcoming.

"The old school lifters will remember building 23 our first Olympic weightlifting training room was," 1992 Olympian and former resident athlete Paul Fleschler said. "We actually have natural light coming in, in the other room it was just almost like a bunker." 

Athletes in the old weightlifting gym in building 23 at the Olympic Training Center.
Pictured, standing: Al Jakubowski, Ken Gallo, Terry Milam, Steve Alvarado, Joe Beuchemin, Dave Santillo, John Coniff, Craig Fjelstad, Joe Major, Chuck Tournear, John Thursh
Seated: Paul Fleschler, Joe Gilber, Tom Lewis, Dave Phillips, Dean Goad, Vernon Patao. Front: Mike Maxwell

An artifact from building 23 lives on in the new gym, a bench where countless athletes have rested during training.

As announced earlier this year, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the other of the facility, decided to close the program effective September 30th. 

A look inside the new OTC gym, taken in October 1993, the month it opened.

"I was really, really sad," Black said. "There's so much history in this room, it's not really about not being able to use the room, but all of our memories and all of the history that we've had here together over all of the years, and seeing all of that disappear is really sad."

"Disappointed and devastated," Fleschler said about the USOC's decision to close the program. "This room it's really been the lifeblood of a whole generation of weightlifters."

The OTC Gym Today

Olympic athletes included the first ever Olympic Gold Medalist Tara Nott-Cunningham, female Olympians Morghan King, Jenny Arthur, Sarah Robles, Natalie Burgener, Carissa Gump, Cara Heads Slaughter, Cheryl Haworth, Melanie Roach and male Olympians Shane Hamman, Pete Kelley, Oscar Chaplin III, Wes Barnett, Derrick Crass, Paul Fleschler, Rich Schutz, Tim McRae, Tom Gough, Mark Henry, and Vernon Patao.

The gym provided a place for the nation's greatest athletes to train with the greatest coaches the nation had to offer. It also created an atmosphere for athletes to bond with one another, creating friendships that would last a lifetime. 

Hanging out at the dorms at the OTC after a long day of lifting.

While the gym is closing along with the resident program, the future is bright for USA Weightlifting athletes. The organization is focusing on a de-centralized training philosophy that will provide new avenues for athletes to achieve their very best on both domestic and international competition platforms. 
However, the special bonds and memories created in that gym on the southeast corner of Sports Center 2 will never be replaced.

"If you were a weightlifter you were here, training at the Olympic Training Center," Fleschler said. "That's something that will be missed by everyone, a whole generation of lifters."