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Olympic City Identity Crisis: teams are leaving Colorado Springs for North Carolina

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (KRDO) — There’s a quiet, but significant, Olympic shift to North Carolina that’s gaining momentum — and it’s at the expense of an Olympic presence in Colorado Springs. 

So felt, that insiders like Olympian Eli Bremer, describe the Springs-based Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, which now houses a fragment of Olympic hopefuls, as a "ghost town."  

Bremer trained for 12 years at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He remains involved with various National Governing Bodies.

"As we've lost the athletes here, we've lost the coaches, we've sort of lost the infrastructure," Bremer said.

Three National Governing Bodies, which are divisions of each Olympic sport, that previously based their training in Colorado Springs, have moved to train at the U.S. Performance Center, based in Charlotte: USA Archery, USA Taekwondo, and USA Judo.

Specifically, when KRDO13 inquired about a fourth team, USA Field Hockey migrating teams to North Carolina, no answer was given, instead was passed to the U.S. Performance Center, then subsequently to a crisis communication manager, who did not respond to questions.

22 days after initially contacting USA Field Hockey, Teryn Brill Galloway, the Director of Communications emailed, writing on Feb. 28, that they do not intend to move their headquarters from Colorado Springs, but added many National Governing Bodies do not train in Colorado Springs. She went on to write that "full-time training athletes" with USA Field Hockey have never been based in Colorado Springs.

Multiple other officials at Colorado Springs-based National Governing Bodies, confirm with KRDO13 that they are considering a move to North Carolina. 

Where are they going?

The U.S. Performance Center was founded in 2013 and has successfully branded itself as an elite training facility.  The brainchild of Ike Belk, it has quickly become the hotspot for athletes wishing to represent the United States on the world platform. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee designated it as one of its Development Programs in 2015.

The three National Governing Bodies represent an agreement initiated in 2019 by the U.S. Performance Center (USPC) with the city of Kannapolis, North Carolina, a bedroom community of Charlotte. 

The agreement — in which Kannapolis paid the USPC upwards of $1.15 million, in exchange for at least six National Governing Bodies taking residence there — was partially fulfilled.  The deal was ultimately scrapped, and blame placed on “Covid and other factors” according to a memo from the city, provided to KRDO13.  The U.S. Performance Center “was not able to meet these conditions,” according to the Kannapolis memo, and the USPC ultimately paid back the seed money to the city. 

Other National Governing Bodies mentioned for a move to North Carolina included in Kannapolis city documents are USA Basketball, Ultimate Frisbee, Soccer, Track and Field, Volleyball, Gymnastics, Hockey, Softball, Triathlon, Weightlifting, Boxing, and Judo.

At the time, Kannapolis city leaders were looking for a fresh presence to revitalize an expansive, 350-acre campus, which used to house the now-defunct Pillotex facility.  The North Carolina Research Center now partially occupies the storied, Ivy-league buildings, which boast researchers from eight institutions.  Scientists there, according to the research center’s website, focus on nutrition and human performance.  Leaders, both with the U.S. Performance Center and Kannapolis, saw an opportunity and started pursuing the alliance. 

Indeed, the City of Kannapolis had big dreams: in a Strategic City Planning document from 2022, leaders wrote about it becoming “Olympic City” and further, establishing North Carolina as the “Olympic State.” 

The exclusive, “Olympic City USA” branding currently belongs to Colorado Springs, secured in part, by an annual $2-million taxpayer-funded check to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. 

While the Kannapolis agreement, in its original form, is no longer, City Manager Mike Legg wrote to KRDO13, “We remain supportive of the project.  At this time, we have no knowledge of USPC’s plans being resurrected in our city.”

But while Kannapolis might not be in the picture currently, the U.S. Performance Center remains on the hunt for more Olympic teams to join its momentum. 

We also found that other teams have moved from Colorado Springs to train elsewhere. USA Badminton now trains in California, and USA Diving is training in Florida.  

While representatives from the U.S. Performance Center would not grant an interview, it has given other news outlets extended access.  In a January 2024 article, co-owner Ike Belk told Sports Travel Magazine, “We’re here to be an asset and let everyone know North Carolina can be a home base and be a great place and a platform for athletes to thrive off of.  I definitely have further aspirations — (but) I don’t know if I can say that now.”

Video from WSOC

The same article points to Belk making “many a trip” to Colorado Springs to talk with National Governing Bodies. 

Olympic officials tell KRDO13 that in some cases, it makes sense for National Governing Bodies to move if their sport has more of a footprint in a different portion of the country. For example, Field Hockey has more athletes playing for school and club teams on the East Coast. This leads to the area having a larger quantity of high-caliber athletes.

What officials are saying

A communications advisor for the U. S. Performance Center didn’t deny its current negotiations with teams in Colorado Springs, but did issue this statement,

“We’ve never used the phrase “Olympic City” and/or “Olympic State.”  The document with that specific language is a City of Kannapolis internal document, not a USPC document. We’ve never seen it and I can’t comment on the inner-workings of Kannapolis.

USPC remains focused on research and innovation to help US athletes get the best possible training they can in preparation for competing on the world stage. As part of this, we are in constant negotiations with a number of potential partners who share that vision.”

— Jonathan Felts, Communications Advisor, USPC

In response to requests for comment from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, based in downtown Colorado Springs, CEO Sarah Hirschland wrote, 

“The USOPC is proud to call Colorado Springs home, and proud that our presence here has grown so significantly over time. With more than 40 years at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, the headquarters in downtown, the world-class Olympic & Paralympic Museum, and as home to many NGBs, Colorado Springs truly is Olympic City USA.“

Similarly, Colorado Springs Mayor Yemi Mobolade issued this statement, after KRDO13 approached him for comment about the Olympic migration: 

"It’s no secret Colorado Springs is Olympic City USA, home of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, the flagship U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, and nearly half of all National Governing Bodies of Olympic sports. Hundreds of Olympic and Paralympic athletes from all over the world continue to train here every year, whether it is in our parks, on the Manitou Incline, or at the world-class training facilities located throughout our city. Our tagline as “Olympic City USA” is not just due to these facts, but it is also granted to us by an exclusive trademark from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. We do not foresee any significant impact to these negotiations, and we look forward to working with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, National Governing Bodies, and sport partners to continue to make Colorado Springs the best place for Olympic and Paralympic sports in the U.S."

Colorado Springs Mayor, Yemi Mobolade

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story said the Colorado Springs city list of teams training was outdated. The city list is current and includes a list of 26 Olympic National Governing Bodies that are headquartered here, the city list does not include which teams train in Colorado Springs.

Story also updated Feb. 28 to include response from USA Field Hockey.

Article Topic Follows: Olympic City USA

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Heather Skold

Heather is the evening anchor for KRDO. Learn more about Heather here.


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