Athletes already have started to pour into what once was the international village for the 1960 winter Olympic Games at Squaw Valley. By the end of the summer, more than 700 aspiring Olympians will have participated in this nation's first organized effort to keep up with those Joneses of amateur sports, the Soviets and East Germans.
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) calls the Squaw Valley effort "a regional training center." Another permanent center is to open at Colorado Springs in midsummer, while a third, probably at Lake Placid, N.Y., is on the planning board.
The USOC will spend $5 million over the next four years to finance these development camps, which are designed for the sole purpose of helping the United States compete with the rest of the world in all Olympic sports, not just in those (such as basketball and track) where it always has been strong.
Another $2 million is being used to establish a major sports-medicine program at each training center. Through this program, the USOC hopes American athletes can start utilizing the same complex medical medical data that has benefited athletes in Communist-bloc countries.
"All of a sudden, we aren't sitting back," said Jerry Lace, USOC assistant director of operations who is in charge of setting up training centers. "This is a new position for this countrry, but it's one we have to take.
"We've never been into program or facility development in the past. Maybe we should have been, but that is hindsight. But what the USOC has done now is to recognize that a lost of small sports can't afford to develop facilities or atletes on their own. So we are helping them do it."
USOC officials say they aren't striving for the authoritarian sports development concept that is the basis of the East German athletic program. But they also admit that without more serious attention to organized athletic development and sports medicine, this country will fall behind in international competition.
"How much longer can we put up with the fact that we don't have one qualified hammer-throw coach in this country, or just, one international speed-skating rink?" asked former Olympic rower Larry Hough. "That is why we need these centers. It's incredible that a country like this one can put up with such deficiencies."
Jerry Lace sat in his office at Olympic House in New York City - the headquarters of the USOC - and pointed to a schedule on his desk.
"We've got a soccer team in Squaw Valley now and, as soon as school is out, we have basketball players and wrestlers coming in," he said. "We've got a women's international basketball tournament scheduled there for later in the summer with six teams.
"By the time August is over, we'll have kayakers and canoers, field hockey players, rowers speed skaters, swimmers and weightlifters."What amazes Lace is that word about Squaw Valley is just now being formally spread to the various American organizations that run the 32 Olympic and Pan American sports. Yet all 360 available beds at the Squaw Valley training center will be filled throughout July and August and the camp already is booked at 50 per cent capacity for this year's full 52-week operation.
"We eventually will have a 700-person capacity out there, but that will come later. From the demand we have now, we won't have any trouble filling the spots."
The Squaw Valley Olympic site has been owned by a numer of private companies since 1960. The USOC now is leasing its extensive facilities, all of which are within eight miles of the village.
How these facilities are utilized is being left up to the governing bodies of the individual Olympic and Pan American sports.
Some may choose to send and novice competitors and give them thorough training in fundamentals. Others may decide to send more advanced performers for more detailed instruction.
The sports must provide the coaches and the training program plan's. The USOC provides a permanent administrative staff and picks up expenses for all the athletes once they arrive at Squaw Valley. Travel expenses either are paid for by the sports or out of the atheletes' own money.
"We are giving the sports the freedom to go in the direction they think best for them," said Lace. "In addition, we also hope to have seminars, forums, guest lectures and so forth that will expose both ateletes and coaches to the latest advancements in athletics.
"I'd be very surprised if we don't start developing international competitors in all those smaller sports which have never fared that well in this country. I think the opportunity directly to individual sports, which first must submit a four-year development plan to the USOC.
"The sports can use this money in any number of ways," said Lace, "is finally here for these sports to start to flourish."
In addition, another $9 million (compared with $2.1 million in the four-years prior to the 1976 Games) is being budgeted through the Moscow Olympics for sport-by-sport development. These funds will be distributed "They can start a series of minicamps to get people familiar with thie international competition for their skilled-athletes. It depends on what way they feel their area can be best served."
The Montrreal Olympics were riddled by stories of athletes resorting ot blood doping, steroids, air inflation, electricla stimulation of muscles and other such medically mysterious ways of improving performances.
Those stories rarely involved American athletes. Indeed, the joke was that Americans couldn't be involved because they didn't know anything about the procedures.
To many American athletic officials, the joke wasn't very funny. Not that they advocated illegal means of improving performances. It was simply painfully obvious to them that in the area of sports medicine, this country was not keeping place with some of its closest international rivals.
The sports medicine programs being established in conjunction with the regional training camps are designed to change this situation. For the first time, an effort is being made to centralize the vast but fragmanted sports medicine information that previously has been available in United States - and to develop research in those areas where knowledge is lacking.
"You've got to remember that the average age of our athletes at the last Olympics was 25," said Dr. Irv Dardik, who is chairman of the USOC sports medicine committee. "That means that most of our athletes were out of college and were self-coached.
"They are going about their preparation on a hit-and-miss basis. Should I run five miles today or three? Should I lift 200 pounds 20 times or 10? What about steroids? WIll they do me any harm? OR good
"They don't have anywhere to turn for the answers. That's why this sports medicine program is to important. We aren't looking to manipulate but we want to provide practical, needed help for anyone who wants it."
This help wil result from the use of $250,000 worth of meidcai equipment that is being installed at Squaw Valley. Six separate medically related areas will be accented:
Biomechanics: Trhough a series of photographs taken at 1,000 frames per second, every movement of an athlete can be recorded and they plugged into a computer for comparison with what is considered the perfect motions in that particular sport. Athletes then can be instructed as to how to better use a certain joint or what muscles need strengthening. Resulting changes in techniques are designed to improve performances.
Nutrition: What are the best diets for various sprots? Are vitamins helpful to athletes? "You'd be surprised," said Dardik, "the contrasting theories existing today regarding nutrition and the athlete."
exercise phsiology. "We need to have more accurate training programs," said Dardik. "It's difficult for the atlete to know if he is overtraining or undertaining. Maybe he is really going about the whole thing incorrectly."
Sports psychology. Dardik says this is the area where athletes might use certain biofeedback approaches to relax better, to control his heartbeat through mental concentration, to get better self-desipline."
Injury treatment. Experts long have called for better-developed and coordinated approaches to the prevention and treatment of athletic injuries. F. Don Miller, executive director of the USOC, said that the medical program would become "the first centralized place where we can coordinate all this information in the United States."
Research. "We want to go into blood droping, steroids and all these other areas that have sprung up in athletics," said Darkik. "Our purpose here is to leave no stone unturned. We want to find out what these things mean and then develop policies to govern their use.
"We want to strip away the mystery surrounding them. As long as athletes think they are being used, they carry some sort of mystique. We want to change that."
The bottom line at the Olympic House, as it is anywhere that an enterprise is expanding rapidly, is money. The USOC has ambitious plans that will cost millions of dollars. ANd that money has come from the private sector of the economy.
The USOC does not want extensive government aid, fearing that along with the funds will come government meddling. What USOC officials like Miller would like to see is limited federal assistance, confined mainly to facility development.
Miller is convinced that private funds can be raised to finance the USOC's current four-year budget of almost $26 million, which is double the last four-year budget prior to the 1976 Olympic games.
"We have found that Olympic interest is at an all-time high," he said. "People are excited by what we are doing and they are willing to give money toward something that is positive and doing something for this country."
Others don't share his optimism. USOC president Robert Kane believes that, "It will be difficult to raise $26 million without government help. Very difficult. That's a lot of money."
What Kane and others are looking for is congressional approval of, among a mumber of possibliities, an Olympic coin program, a tax-credit program and a tax write-off prpgram that would allow individuals to check off contributions ot USOC on their federal tax forms.
"We are optimistic that Congress will give us help before it adjourns in October," said Kane. "It will come, we hope, along with the approval of all the changes we have made in our bylaws."
Miller admits that Congress at least will have to supply money for the regional training centers. The $6 million set aside for those centers and the $1.5 million for the sports medicine program are over and above the $26 million on the four-year budget."
"We've begun programs that people have asked for for years," said Miller. "Now those same people have to help us keep them going or we'll be back where we started."