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August 21, 2012

Tech's new Olympic Sports Athletic Performance Center a real gem

By: Jimmy Robertson

Virginia Tech’s Olympic sports got much better over the summer, and it wasn’t necessarily because the coaches of those sports brought in better players.

Thanks to a donation from the family of W.A. and Mae Street, originally from Grundy, Va., the athletics department opened a brand new, $1 million Olympic sports training center over the summer dedicated solely for the Hokies’ Olympic sports. The new Olympic Sports Athletic Performance Center features more than 6,000 square feet filled with weights, barbells, weight racks and other assorted equipment designed to help one get stronger, bigger and faster. The new center also features an 1,800 square-foot mezzanine level designed with equipment to help enhance the functional movement of Tech’s athletes and thus prevent injuries.

“This is something that’s going to benefit so many people,” said Tom Gabbard, Tech’s associate AD for internal affairs. “You have to give credit to Mike Gentry [Tech’s associate AD for athletic performance], Terry Mitchell [a director of strength and conditioning] and Megan Evans [a strength and conditioning coordinator]. Jim [Weaver, Tech’s AD] has always believed in letting the users tell the architects how they want a facility planned, and all those guys did a great job of making this project come together.”

The Olympic Sports Athletic Performance Center sits in a spot that recently served as an auxiliary gym in Cassell Coliseum – a gym that had been previously used by the Hokies’ wrestling program to train. But the wrestling program vacated that space when it received the entire third floor of the new football locker room building completed nearly two years ago. That third floor serves as the wrestlers’ new practice area, with a training area and a sports medicine area adjacent to it. The third floor also houses their new locker room and the coaches’ offices.

Gentry had long sought a new training center for Tech’s Olympic sports athletes, so Weaver, Gabbard and the rest of the athletics administration decided to convert the old gym into such a center. Southland Construction won the bid for the job and basically gutted the gym, installing a new air conditioning system, new lighting, new windows on both sides and new offices, while also building the mezzanine level for the functional movement area.

“It [the center] certainly exceeded our expectations, and I’m appreciative of Jim Weaver for letting us have that space,” Gentry said. “I doubt anyone would recognize that it used to be an old gym. It really turned out nice, and the kids are excited about it. They’d come in and take pictures of it as it was being developed. So they’re excited, and we’re excited.

“The big thing it does is it gives us much-needed space. These kids have so much more going on now than when I first started, and they have so many demands on their time. With this space and the first-class equipment that we have, we can double up on teams if we need to and still meet their training needs.”

Mitchell and Evans, who oversee Tech’s Olympic sports, are especially pleased. Those two worked in the previous weight room on the bottom floor of the Jamerson Athletics Center and often spent a lot of time juggling training regimens for teams because of a lack of space. Some teams possess rosters so big that Mitchell and Evans were forced to split the team for training. In some cases, specialized exercises spilled out into the hallways because of a lack of space, and Mitchell and Evans themselves shared an office that used to be a closet.

Simply put, Tech’s athletic programs outgrew the space.

“Now, we can accommodate more athletes,” Mitchell said. “We were in a place where we could fit 23 [athletes] comfortably, and when we designed it [the new performance center], we wanted to allow for double that number.

“With our [his and Evans] sports, the kids are competing Monday through Sunday. It’s not like with football where you have a set schedule. But with this extra space, we can accommodate more kids, be flexible with times and get their training done.”

The new center, of course, features all new weights and weightlifting equipment. In fact, it holds 15 lifting racks (10 full, 5 half) designed by Total Strength and Speed. These stainless steel racks possess the ability to convert to allow for different lifts (power cleans, squats, bench presses and other presses). With the five half racks, there is a dumbbell and kettle bell area, so an athlete could complete his or her training on one of the half racks without moving to another area.

“They [Total Strength and Speed] really worked with us and were willing to listen, and they tweaked the equipment specifically for us,” Mitchell said. “Our racks work for any arm length and work for males or females, and we’ve got spotter stands and a place to store the bar and the chains.

“So I really think the quality of our training is going to improve because we’ve got more space and more equipment. It’s safer and user friendly.”

The center includes unique equipment such as three “Pit Sharks,” or machines designed for people who cannot squat with a barbell, and two “towers” that allow for working one’s back muscles. Tech’s strength and conditioning staff also will have five “tsunami” barbells at its disposal, becoming the first school to use this piece of equipment. This barbell is made of special composite materials that make it flexible, and thus, it activates muscles at a 20 percent greater rate. Muscles are three times more active using this barbell than a standard barbell.

The mezzanine level serves as the home for the functional movement screening area. Tech’s strength and conditioning staff plans on screening athletes on various movements, and the results of the screening will let the staff know if an athlete is predisposed to specific types of injuries. If so, then he or she can work on any of the three “Freedom Trainers” – machines that can put athletes in a position to work on any deficiencies in movements to prevent injuries.

“If they’re not functionally moving correctly, then we can use those machines to address that and prevent injuries,” Mitchell said. “We haven’t had that before.”

“We’ve really got some cutting edge technology,” Gentry said. “We can find out an athlete’s needs and work with him or her.”

The new center also includes a sound system, two large flatscreen televisions and a small area for a camera. The video staff wants to use this equipment to show the proper technique for various lifts and also for when it holds strength and conditioning clinics.

Also, outside the main entrance, there is a large, flatscreen television. This television will be used to display the training schedules for each of the various sports.

Mitchell and Evans have moved into new offices within The Olympic Sports Athletic Performance Center. There is also an office for graduate assistants and a small storage area with cabinets, a sink and an area for a small refrigerator.

In addition to the obvious – having a brand new strength and conditioning center for current student-athletes to train and also to show recruits – the Olympic sport coaches like the new center because of its location. The baseball and softball coaches’ offices are directly across the hall, while the track and field, swimming and diving, soccer and volleyball coaches’ offices are just one floor above.

All in all, everyone has won out with this project.

“We want the coaches and athletes excited to train and to be proud of it,” Gentry said. “And I think they are. We want to take care of them, and we feel this center does that.”

“The best thing about this is that it’s just for Olympic sports with their name on it,” Mitchell added. “It’s not a hand-me down. It’s designed for them, and hopefully it’ll motivate them and their passion for their sports.”