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Olympics

Inside the Training Lab of Team USA

Team USA's training facility in Salt Lake City doesn't have a juice bar. It's got soul instead.

This article was published in the summer edition of Gym Climber.For the latest Olympic coverage before and during the Games, join us with an Outside+ membership. Sign up and you’ll also receive a year of Climbing in print, plus our annual coffee-table edition of Ascent.

Everyone calls it the TC, the official “High Performance” training facility for Team USA athletes in Salt Lake City. Imagine a core climbing gym on steroids, except take away the juice bar and insert a small fridge. In place of a vending machine, add in a few boxes of Clif Bars. Remove the yoga room and in its place add an entire wing devoted to comp-style boulders. Add in a giant graffiti mural, and layer in the vibe of a climbing salon, à la the Paris art salons of the 19th century, where those who are who stop by for a visit as they pass through town.

While not all Team USA athletes live and train in Salt Lake City, it is quickly becoming the hub for current and aspiring American elite competition climbers. The TC even has its own Instagram account: @usa_tc. For good reason. The facility is core, the community is real, and there’s good coffee nearby. In an interview with KRCC radio, assistant coach Meg Coyne noted, “The space is a little dingy,” which isn’t inaccurate, though that’s what gives the place its charm.

The main entrance to the TC is far removed from the street, the latter a stone’s throw from Highway 15, the main highway slicing Salt Lake City north to south. A single door with a sign that says “TC” on top gains access, and you could easily mistake it for a carpenter’s workshop.

Salt Lake is an excellent place to live, train and climb. There are plenty of boulders in the surrounding desert and up the granite canyons. Some of the earliest top-end sport routes can be found on the limestone near Salt Lake. Already, the new comp crews are adding their mark to the area. Nathaniel Coleman FA’d Grand Illusion, which, at V16, is now one of the hardest in the American West. Not long after, Sean Bailey, a friend, fellow competitor and training partner of Coleman’s, nabbed the coveted second ascent.


 

Above photos: The scene, including setters, equipment, psyched athletes, and, of course, Lulu.
Photos: Jess Talley / Louder Than 11

The TC can be divided into two sections. The front, where you enter, has the weight racks, hangboards, spray wall, PT corner and long table. The walls are from EntrePrises. The “far” half is the land of comp boulders: a “U-shaped” area that feels vacuous and decadent, in the sense that the area is four times the size of the gym in my hometown, but only contains a dozen or so problems. And the problems are hard. But that’s the point—to mimic the competition environment with stately, cerebral World Cup problems. The storage room for the holds and volumes is also massive enough to store two Cessna airplanes; there, volumes larger than refrigerators lie about like monstrous shapes. Sets upon sets of holdsBluepill, Blocz, Cheeta, eGrips, eXpression, Flathold, Kilter, Level, Pusher, Rockcity, Squadra, Teknikare stacked on giant metal shelving. If I was a route setter, working at the TC would be a dream.

When I was there, the comp room saw constant action. Local climbers came in and worked with setters to dial in the problems. Larson grabbed ladders and drill and made tweaks as necessary. Keep them fresh and keep them coming seemed to be the motto of comp boulders.

While the athletes predominantly go to the local gym Momentum to train speed, the TC does have a “complete” speed route…except climbers can’t do the route from top to bottom in one go. Rather, the route is broken up so that they can work the sections individually. When I was there, they had some new timer technology, which would help them to better dial in starts.

The hangboard area has, of course, a Beastmaker 2000 and a Tension Grindstone Pro. Accoutrements are Tension ball slopers, pinches and angled edge-blocks, in addition to an assortment of heinous edges. There’s a Grasshopper wall and enough assorted weights and weightbelts to sink the Titanic, except half the time the athletes are wearing them to make their 8-mil deadhangs harder. The TC is equal parts fun and serious, a place you can feel comfortable without the impersonal modernism of so many other “elite” training centers, you know, sterilized equipment, bright white walls and bleached floors. The people make the place, and as long as the climbers keep coming and cheering each other on, U.S. competition climbing has a very bright future.