Unlimited Ice Cream, AKA The Olympic Training Center Cafeteria

In many ways the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center cafeteria is reminiscent of any university cafeteria — a bunch of youngish people dressed for comfort, lots of stainless steel surfaces, juice, milk, and soda machines, plates still warm from the dishwasher, the cheapest cutlery money can buy. The usual.

But I must admit, at the OTC I found “the usual” a bit surprising. Because these are not the usual people, nor is this a usual location. These are high performance Olympic athletes who devote their lives to sport, at a facility dedicated to helping them make this devotion pay off. Even going to the bathroom is done at high speed here.

Sign for the men’s bathroom

So this is why when I saw that they were serving two different kinds of chicken wings as a dinner option I was a little surprised. Granted, there was a sign above the offerings outlining the fat, carbohydrate and protein composition of said wings…but still, wings? For Olympians?

Paying closer attention now, I also noted the Coca-cola soda machine (A Team USA sponsor), and the ice cream sundae station as similarly incongruent nutrition options.

I expressed my surprise to an Olympian training at the facility and received strong pushback. She argued in favor of these items, and in particular the wings, for two main reasons:

  1. It’s good to be able to enjoy “comfort” food every now and then
  2. If they didn’t provide these sorts of options athletes would complain

The first argument made sense to me, but I had trouble understanding why the OTC cafeteria had to be responsible for satisfying this desire. As for the second, international athletes lives are already largely structured around physical self-discipline and pushing oneself mentally. Just as it would seem that complaining about a reasonable but challenging practice wouldn’t make sense, complaining about only being provided healthy nutrition seems to run counter to the explicit goals of the potential complainer.

I tried to consider the situation while imagining myself in the position of a theoretical athlete with a sweet tooth. I quickly decided that I would much prefer not having the option to indulge, rather than needing, three times each day, to make the decision not to indulge. Willpower is finite, so why needlessly expend a portion of your stock each day? Especially when you have to spend so much time thinking about what can and cannot go in the toilet?