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U.S. Olympic hopefuls train for Tokyo inside abandoned Macy’s

Olympic Macy's

U.S. Olympic hopefuls in boxing and shooting began training inside an abandoned Macy’s in the last month, the latest adaptive move by athletes ramping up preparation for the Tokyo Games that open in less than six months.

“It kind of feels like you’re in a ‘Rocky’ movie,” said Richard Torrez Jr., a super heavyweight boxer who knows a thing or two about unorthodox training setups. His youth gym in Tulare, Calif., was converted by his grandfather from a broken-down fire station in 1975.

USA Boxing and USA Shooting made deals to use the space at The Citadel mall in Colorado Springs in part because the nearby U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center isn’t fully reopened to athletes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have not been able to be there since March 16,” USA Boxing executive director Mike McAtee said of the training center, which phased athletes in some sports back in over the summer and fall, then closed again from Dec. 10 until Jan. 15. “The Games are going to happen, or we must prepare that they are.”

USA Boxing held national team camps last year under a tent on a tennis court at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and inside ballrooms at Hotel Eleganté in Colorado Springs.

It also considered fitness centers that went out of business because of the pandemic and other vacant spaces in The Citadel. The national governing body (NGB), seeking 20,000 square feet, ended up getting a favorable financial deal with the former Macy’s adjacent to a Hooters.

The owner of the Hotel Eleganté, which previously hosted a youth continental boxing championships, also owns the abandoned space that was a Macy’s until about 11 years ago. During USA Boxing’s current monthlong training camp, the hotel accommodates boxers who under normal circumstances stay at the training center.

The Macy’s has been filled with four rings and heavy bags brought over from the training center, plus strength and conditioning equipment such as stationary bikes.

“It’s our new home away from home,” McAtee said.

A total of 13 U.S. boxers are training for international Olympic qualifying tournaments in the spring. Torrez and fellow Olympic hopeful Ginny Fuchs appreciated the creative adaptation to the circumstances.

“You can tell it used to be a Macy’s,” Fuchs said. “Obviously all the furniture and everything is out, but you can still see the shoe racks [sixth image in this series], price checks [signs].”

The amount of ventilation is such that the space can get a little chilly, but the stench of sweating athletes hasn’t displaced the previous residing odor.

“You know that musk smell of an old department store? That’s kind of what it smells like,” said Fuchs, who was, pre-pandemic, open about struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and, more recently, developed panic attacks while in quarantine.

USA Shooting also sought out the Macy’s last month, when a virus surge signaled to Matt Suggs, the NGB’s CEO, that the training center would shutter at least temporarily.

USA Shooting looked at other locations in the autumn, including an indoor facility for baseball batting cages. The Macy’s space ownership reached out, mentioned USA Boxing’s arrangement, and USA Shooting joined them.

“It’s a good stopgap, but it is not a good long-term solution,” Suggs said. “It’s a lot better than nothing, but the place we really need to be is here on complex at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center.”

The Macy’s can accommodate two of the five Olympic pistol or rifle events -- the air pistol and air rifle, where targets are 10 meters (33 feet) away from the shooter. The other three events, where targets are 25 meters or 50 meters away, can only be done at the training center.

Ginny Thrasher, a 2016 Olympic champion in the 10m air rifle, is trying to make the Tokyo Olympic team in the 50m event at upcoming trials. She practices at the training center, now that it reopened to some athletes, but still drives over to the Macy’s.

“It’s beneficial to actually go to different places to train,” she said. “It can help you build your ability to adapt.”

About 30 total shooters have been using the Macy’s. USA Shooting is prepared to keep the space through the Olympics.

“It may not be the perfectly ideal situation, but it is a solution,” Thrasher said, “and if I’m able to train in any capacity, no matter how challenging or different it is, it doesn’t matter.”

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