Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California is a complex where American athletes of the '70s are taking part in medical tests that will help American athletes of the '80s - and beyond - come closer to the Olympic motto: "Faster, higher, stronger."

But it is not just potential Olympic athletes who may benefit from the studies going on at the U.S. Olympic Committee Training Center at Squaw Valley. What is learned there may also help the summer volleyball player, the post-operative patient, the handicapped.

Squaw Valley is just the start. The USCC recently opened another regional training center at Colorado Springs and plans one at Lake Placid, N.Y., after the 1980 Winter Olympics.

But the research on what makes athletes tick, physiologically, isn't going on just in Squaw Valley and Colorado Springs. It's taking place in Washington, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Cleveland, New York and almost any other city you can name.

What scientists and physicians learn from examining, test and treating athletes in sports medicine clinics may open new fields of preventive and rehabilitative medicine for both athletes and nonathletes.

If they learn, for example, that certain exercises strengthen the back muscles of a weightlifter - and reduce the possibility of injury - they may want to recommend some of these exercises to the man who strained his back moving the panio.

If they learn a swimmer's conditioning program increased her oxygen-intake ability, or shaved a second off the last record, that, too, may be applied outside athletics.

Discoveries are being made almost daily in sports medicine. The problem is that too few of them are shared.

"A better effort of gathering and disseminating information is a major need in this country," said Dr. G.R. Greenwell, chairman of the Amateur Athletic Union's sports medicine committee.

"The people who are doing research on human performance and fitness are not really concerned that the coaches and athletes are not getting the results which could be of assistance," Greenwell said.

His opinion was shared by the President's Commission on Olympic Sports, which called for a national center, for sports medicine to promote research and serve as a coordinating agency.

The PCOS concluded that "the nation's efforts in sports medicine are as fragmented and uncoordinated as the U.S. amateur sports system in general. While other nation's have a central institution for sports medicine, the U.S. sponsor or underwrite research and development . . ."

There are a number of major national organizations involved in sports medicine. They include the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, one of the few organizations that disseminates its research findings and recommendations to athletes and coaches; the USOC's Olympic Sports Medicine Committee; the President Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and the American College of Sports Medicine. The American Medical Association dispanded its committee last year.

The American College of Sports Medicine based at the University of Wisconsin, has about 4,000 members representing 40 different specalities, from physicians to trainers to athletes. The college is also the U.S. representative to the only international sports medicine group, the International Federation of Sports Medicine. The College also schedules workshops, lectures and offers certification for exercise program directors.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has a Committee of Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sport that has issued position papers on equipment and the dangers of "spearing" in football.

The AAU's committee is not very active, Greenwell said, largely because the administrative branch won't provide "sufficient funds so it justifies (the committee's) existence." He said he had a $1,000 budget last year, which was used to hire a guest speaker.

The National Federation of State High School Associations has no sports medicine committee, leaving such matters to the state affiliates.

Besides these organizations, and many unnamed, there are the National Athletic Trainers Association and Penn State's National Athletic Injury-Illness Reporting System making contributions to sports medicine.

The National Athletic Health Institute in Los Angeles is nationally known for its research in athletic injuries and recreational health.

Dr. Robert Kerlan, an orthopedic surgeon who is the institute's medical director, also is associated with the professional Rams, Lakers and Kings and is consultant to the Angels and Padres. He was the Dodgers' team physician for 11 years.

The institute was founded. Kerlan said, because "we felt it was necessary in the medical and scientific education community as an interface between the purely academic and clinical areas."

We're trying to measure the parameters which are necessary for optimal health," Kerlan said. "We've been getting executives who are middle-aged and decided they had to get out and start doing something."

A patient may have gotten the green light after a physical to start exercising, but no one has really told him now healthy he is, Kerlan said. "From 0 to 100, how do you measure where you are in terms of optimal health?" he asked.

At the institute, undergoes a number of tests. "We weigh them under water, put them on the tread mill, find out how well they use oxygen with their lungs, how much elasticity they have . . .

"We consider nutritional requirements - what is their lean body mass (everything in the body except fat). What you weigh is not important. Fat should be a minimum of 10 to 15 per cent of the body. You can lose 15 to 20 pounds and still be out of shape."

The body's range of motion, power, strength and endurance can be measured accurately by specially designed machines that graphically illustrate the pattern of response.

Then, Kerlan said, "We give a person a specific exercise prescription keyed to what (his) needs are. We can devise a program for a 70-year-old lady or an 18-year-old kid."

Dr. Royer Collins, an orthopedist who founded a sports medicine clinic in Cleveland and is now with Kerlan at the Los Angeles instute, noted how increasingly sophisticated the sports medicine field is beconing.

"Increased participation in sports by the population in general is one of the reasons we've probably recognized the need for people knowledgable in this area. There is more and more leisure time and more and more injuries as a result," Collins said.

"One of the reasons for a field like sports medicine is that, befor, a lot of physicians didn't know or didn't care about (athletic injuries). The tendency for them might be to say, 'You ought to stop playing football.' But that igonores the pyschological aspects.

"It's as though (physicians) were saying, 'Cut out this nonsense.' There was a tendency to ignore them (athletes) as human beings. Now we try to get them back to play - if they can play," said Collins, who was team physician for the Cleveland Browns, Kent State University and about 21 Cleveland-area high schools.

If there is a major challenge facing sports medicine today, Kerlan, said it is preventive medicine. Can science end, for example, repeated microtraumas such as tennis elbow and jumper's knee?

"The human anatomy is not suited for the games people play," Kerlan said. "I don't think any game has been devised yet which took the human anatomy into consideration."

Dr. Samuel Fox, a cardiologist at Georgetown University Hospital, where he is in charge of the Cardiology Exercise Laboratory, also stresses the importance of preventive medicine.

"We in medicine have been too busy putting Humpty-Dumpty back on the wall," Fox said. "Maybe now we can prevent ill health by advancing good health habits."

Fox, the former president of the American College of Cardiology, a teaching professor and current chairman of the exercise committee of the American Heart Association, noted "the tremendous interest as to whether exercise might help preven disease." In general, active people seem to be less prone to heart attacks.

The recreational explosion, Fox said, has had both good and bad side effects. It is encouraging that people are concerned about health and fitness, but some ar taking up certain sports with a zeal that could backfire, Fox cautioned.

The USOC has a $25.8 million budget for this four-year Olympic period, with $1.5 million of it earmarked for sports medicine.

Bob Beeten, director of sports medicine at the center, estimates there are about $400 worth of tests done on each athlete and propular opinion aside, the center's program is not for elite athletes only.It is not, he emphasize, the latest U.S. counter-attack to the sports training institutes so massively funded by the governments in the Soviet Union and East Germany.

"I'd say we had close to 1,500 athletes here this year," said Lew Whiting, the cener's director. "And less than 100 were probably what you could call world-class athletes."

The athletes who come to the center, some for three days of testing, others for two weeks, are selected by the national governing body of their sport.

"We've seen a mixture of junior high and senior high people," said Beeten. "We've had 16-year-old race-walkers and 40-year-old race-walkers. They're given a general testing program. We test their flexibility, reaction time, body densities. We measure expired air. We also test their fatigue and endurance levels on bicycles and treadmills. We test specific muscle groups in relation to their sports.

"Right now, we're just getting a lot of baseline data and we'll work with them again next summer."

Essentially, there are six medically related areas under scrutiny: nutriction, exercise physiology, sports psychology, injury treatment, research and biomechancis.

Biomechanics is a relatively new field where the potential for improving athletic performances and preventing injuries is enormous. Through a series of photographs taken at 1,000 frames per second, every movement of the athlete is plotted and then put into a computer for comparison with what is thought to be the perfect motions in that sport.

Athletes can then be told how to use a certain joint of what muscles need strengthening to improve performance.

The program is "somewhat relatively the same" as that at the National Athletic Health Institute in Los Angeles, Beeten said, but the center's is "broader-based" in numbers of people and the variety of sports. So far, 26 of the 30 Olympic and Pan American sports have been represented.

The type of tests done may depend on what the national governing body or coach wants to learn about the sport and the athletes who compete in it.

"The coach may want to know what a synchronized swimmer should be, what's she supposed to have in terms of strength and lung capacity," said Whiting. "So we'll do tests which gives us some basic data and pass that on to the coach.

"Maybe the kind of girl they're looking for is 5-foot-2 with eyes of blue. We don't know that yet until we do the tests."

Both Whiting and Beeten stress that it is crucial to get the test information to the people who need it most - the coaches and athletes.

"Too often, they're never told (the test results) and the only way they find out is by reading a medical journal," said Beeten. "We have to explain it in terms they can understand."

"We're trying to get the information out to the coach who's training the swimmers at the local AAU meet. They need that information, too," Whiting added. "It's not just for the coaches who go overseas to clinics, but for the man out there who's treating the masses."