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Melissa Lott with three US Olympic cyclists.

Melissa Lott (second from left) with U.S. Olympic cyclists Christian Stahls, Tanya Lindemuth, and Massie Giddeon at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado.

Behind the athlete: U alum served as strength coach for U.S. Olympic athletes

U alum served as strength coach for U.S. Olympic athletes

By Pauline Oo

Published on August 9, 2004

For as long as she can remember, Melissa Lott has always watching the Olympic Games on television. If she's not cheering on her favorite athletes, she's tuning in to the progress of the underdogs and those who seem invincible. This summer will be no different. But her list of favorites has grown. The University of Minnesota alumna and former Gopher rower will also be rooting for several U.S. Olympic athletes she helped train. Lott served as a strength coach at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs between May 25 and August 21, 2003, looking after the bodies of U.S. athletes bound for national or international competition. Under her watchful eyes, volleyball players, wrestlers, and cyclists huffed and puffed--or ran, stretched, and lifted weights. "We don't want any athlete to get injured ever; that's the whole reason we strength-train them--to prevent injury," says Lott, who earned her master's in kinesiology at the U last fall and is currently the interim strength and conditioning coach with the Minnesota Lynx. Olympic-caliber athletes have strenuous schedules. Many compete year-round and practice two or three times a day for hours on end. To keep their bodies up to the task, they turn to strength and conditioning coaches like Lott. In addition to preventing injuries, Lott says strength training is necessary to help athletes develop the physical attributes that enhance their performance or playing ability. For example, doing squats and bench-presses can contribute to a volleyball player's agility by the net and power in serves.

"You think [athletes are going to be training] 10 times more intense at the Olympic Training Center than at the collegiate level.... But it's not quite like that," says U alum Melissa Lott.

Working at the Olympic Training Center "was an unbelievable experience," says Lott, who was selected for the paid internship position in her final year of graduate school from hundreds of applicants nationwide. "I learned more about how [our country develops athletes for the Olympics], and I learned a lot from the two head coaches there about my profession, especially how to design and implement strength programs for specific sports." One of her most surprising discoveries in Colorado, though, was that Olympic athletes could not be pushed as hard as collegiate athletes in the weight room. "You think [athletes are going to be training] 10 times more intense at the Olympic Training Center than at the collegiate level, just because these people are competing for a spot on the USA team to go to the Olympics," says Lott, who has been active in various sports since seventh grade. "But it's not quite like that, at least not what I saw in the weight room. And the reason is because a lot of them are over trained--there is no real off-season for these athletes. So that makes it harder to strength-coach because you can't always increase the intensity in the weight room [for fear of] injuries." The center is one of three official U.S. Olympic Committee facilities dedicated to the development of current and future U.S. Olympic athletes in nine sports--archery, rowing, canoe and kayak, soccer, softball, field hockey, tennis, track and field, and cycling. The other training centers are located in Chula Vista, California, and Lake Placid, New York. "It's good to see that a lot of [the athletes I helped train] made it to Athens," says Lott. "I've been following them on the Web." And if they strike gold, perhaps these Olympians will let Lott use them as references on her resume. As the Lynx's strength coach, she is already one step closer to her ultimate professional goal: working directly for the Women's National Basketball Association.