Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner and triathlete. Her email is, and you can follow her on twitter (@jodiheckel).

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The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are a year away, but the athletes hoping to represent the U.S. have been training for years to get there.

I got a glimpse of home base for some of these athletes when I visited the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., last week.

Many athletes live and train there full-time, while others come for short stays. The athletes who live and train there for four years are selected by their sports’ governing bodies. The facility also hosts training camps for younger athletes.

The center is the training facility for most indoor summer sports, such as gymnastics, boxing, cycling, shooting and wrestling. There are other facilities around the country that also host athletes.

Track and field athletes train in Chula Vista, Calif., for example, while swimmers often train at their home pools, a guide told my tour group. The University of Illinois, which has produced many Paralympians and medalists, is a Paralympic training site for track and field athletes.

One of the most impressive areas in the Colorado Springs center — for me, at least — was the high-altitude room. It contains four large treadmills and can simulate altitudes up to 24,000 feet. The temperature and humidity can also be adjusted to match the conditions an athlete is likely to face at his or her next competition.

The training pool was also impressive, with both underwater and overhead cameras to film swimmers and catwalks above the water to help coaches evaluate the athletes’ strokes. The pool is used mainly by Paralympic swimmers, although some Olympic swimmers also use it. Michael Phelps has trained there.

I was intrigued by the pulley system with a bucket attached at the end of every other lane. Our guide told us it is used for resistance training in which the water-filled bucket is attached via pulleys and a belt to a swimmer, who swims away to pull it upward.

Another particularly brutal-sounding workout we learned about: Athletes swim half a lap to a spot where a rope is hanging from the catwalk. They climb the rope, do some pullups on the catwalk, climb back down and continue swimming.

The Ted Stevens Sports Services Center is the newest building at the complex. It houses the high-altitude room as well as a strength and conditioning area with weight equipment, indoor and outdoor turf areas, and a short track with plates underneath for measuring force.

The building also contains a training kitchen where a nutritionist teaches athletes how to cook healthful meals that will best provide energy for workouts and help them recover.

The complex’s sports medicine services are also in the Sports Services Center, with a variety of medical staff and an MRI machine. Athletes can use anti-gravity treadmills that allow them to keep training and maintain their fitness even when injured. To do so, an athlete steps into a bag on the treadmill that is zipped around them and filled with air, reducing the effect of gravity by 80 percent.

We also saw the boxing gym and the wrestling gym, where men’s and women’s freestyle wrestlers and men’s Greco-Roman wrestlers practice. The wrestling gym is kept at 85 degrees to help the athletes both keep their muscles loose and lose water weight through sweating.

While winter Olympians and Paralympians train mostly at a site in Lake Placid, N.Y., an Olympic bobsledder was working out in the strength and conditioning area when I was at the Colorado Springs training center. He spotted our tour group, walked over to some weight plates and casually tossed them into the air and caught them, then flexed his muscles for our benefit. It will be fun to see how he and the other athletes who train at the center do in the next Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner and triathlete. Her email is, and you can follow her on twitter (@jodiheckel).

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