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Turf of heroes

It's time to soak up the spirit of camaraderie and competition -- or at least Hollywood -- at 10 sites associated with the Olympics.

August 10, 2008|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

Not everyone can have the raw strength of wrestler Rulon Gardner or the flexibility of gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Oh, and forget about having the blinding foot speed of sprinter Michael Johnson. But with the Games of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing to inspire us, even the flabbiest and clumsiest mortals can soak in the spirit of camaraderie, competition and corporate sponsorship at one of these 10 locations.

McDONALD'S OLYMPIC SWIM STADIUM

When the United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, discouraged National Collegiate Athletic Assn. champ Ambrose "Rowdy" Gaines thought his swimming days were over. But encouraged by his father to keep going, Gaines made the team for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, where he was not expected to place. Undeterred, he won the 100-meter freestyle and swam the anchor leg for two relay medley teams that placed first. The pool, on the campus of USC where Gaines won three gold medals, is open to the public daily. (The nearby Coliseum, where sprinter Carl Lewis made his first Olympic appearance and where U.S. distance runner Mary Decker collided with runner Zola Budd is usually not open to the public.) For pool hours and fees, call the General William Lyon University Center, (213) 740-5127, or go to www.usc.edu/recsports.

HOME DEPOT CENTER, CARSON

Baseball may be America's pastime, but soccer is far bigger worldwide. So the eyes of the world were on the Home Depot Center in March, when the sports complex in Carson, 20 minutes south of downtown Los Angeles, hosted one of three Olympic qualifying tournaments for men's soccer. Teams from the U.S. and Honduras won the two spots to play in Beijing. The facility doesn't offer regular public tours, but visitors can bask in the Olympic afterglow during other events at the center, such as the X Games or L.A. Galaxy soccer matches. For information on upcoming events, call (310) 630-2000 or go to www.homedepotcenter.com.

MUHAMMAD ALI CENTER, LOUISVILLE, KY.

"The Greatest." "The Louisville Lip." "The Champ." Whatever you call him, you can't deny that Muhammad Ali is a living legend and one of the greatest athletes of the modern era. He launched into boxing history with the name Cassius Clay at the 1960 Summer Games in Rome, where he won a gold medal in the light-heavyweight division. Later, as a professional boxer, Ali won the world heavyweight title three times by floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. At the Muhammad Ali Center, in the champ's hometown, you can see video of his greatest fights and pound the heavy bag in a re-creation of Ali's training facility. For more information, call (502) 584-9254 or go to www.alicenter.org.

HERB BROOKS ARENA, LAKE PLACID, N.Y.

"Do you believe in miracles?" That was the exclamation from sportscaster Al Michaels when the U.S. hockey team upset the favored Soviets at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics in 1980. Bedlam broke out on the ice as the underdog Americans celebrated the most improbable victory. The arena (which was later named for the team's coach) is also where in 1932, figure skater Sonja Henie won the second of three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Visitors can step on the same ice rink and visit an Olympic museum in the same building. For more details, call (518) 523-3330 or go to www.orda.org.

U.S. OLYMPIC TRAINING CENTER, CHULA VISTA, CALIF.

The $65-million ARCO Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, south of San Diego, is one of three that American athletes use to prepare for the Olympics. In this complex, competitors train for track and field, canoeing, kayaking, field hockey, soccer, archery and rowing. Free tours are offered daily, starting at the Copley Visitor Center, where tourists can buy Olympic memorabilia and souvenirs. Visitors walk through an elevated promenade as they watch athletes train below. For details, call (619) 482-6215 or go to www.teamusa.org/content/index/1375.

U.S. OLYMPIC TRAINING CENTER, COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO.

When you see the state-of-the-art training facility in Colorado Springs, you will understand why the U.S. has dominated in the medal totals at almost every recent Olympics. This sports medicine and training complex can house and train up to 557 coaches and athletes. The showcase facility here is USA Swimming's International Center for Aquatic Research and its 50,000-gallon flume that works like an underwater treadmill for swimmers. Free public tours are offered daily. For hours, call (719) 632-5551 or go to www.usoc.org/content/index/1377.

ENERGYSOLUTIONS ARENA, SALT LAKE CITY

During the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002, American figure skater Sarah Hughes was in fourth place after the short program. She would have to pull off a miracle to win gold. She did, landing seven triple jumps in her long program, including two triple-triple combinations. Hughes' improbable victory took place in what was then called the Delta Center and later was renamed EnergySolutions Arena. Visitors can arrange free tours by calling (801) 325-2554.

GEORGIA DOME, ATLANTA

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