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December 5, 2002

Pitt expected to be hub of Senior Olympics games

Pitt's Petersen Events Center is expected to be the hub for the 2005 Summer National Senior Games — the Senior Olympics — which organizers predict will draw 12,000 athletes aged 50 and older to compete in 18 sports ranging from horseshoes to high jumping.

The games are set for June 3-18, 2005.

The Petersen Center will host basketball and volleyball games, and serve as event headquarters, athlete registration center, corporate village and media center, according to a tentative schedule for the games.

Other Pitt sites scheduled to host Senior Games events are Fitzgerald Field House (basketball, shuffleboard), Trees Hall (badminton, swimming, volleyball) and the Cost Center (badminton, volleyball).

Track and field competition is set for Carnegie Mellon University's outdoor track, with other events scheduled for Schenley Park, North Park and other venues around Allegheny County.

At a Nov. 26 news conference announcing Pittsburgh's selection as the 2005 Summer National Senior Games site, county Chief Executive Jim Roddey said: "If we didn't have the facilities of the University of Pittsburgh, we would not have the ability to [host the games]."

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg spoke proudly of what he called Pitt's new, state-of-the-art athletic facilities, then quipped: "I also understand that some of the participants may actually stay in our five-star dormitory rooms, and perhaps even sample some college cafeteria cuisine."

The National Senior Games Association's (NSGA) board of directors selected Pittsburgh as host city for the 2005 games from among 19 communities that submitted bids. In May, the NSGA narrowed the list to three sites, then conducted evaluation visits in July. Phil Godfrey, NSGA vice president and chief operating officer, said his organization was impressed with Pittsburgh's proposed athletic venues, medical resources and the city's "warmth and enthusiasm."

Pittsburgh's involvement with the NSGA began when Pitt orthopaedic surgery professor Peter Z. Cohen and fellow sports medicine researchers from UPMC and Pitt attended the 1999 Summer National Senior Games in Orlando, Fla.

During the 2001 games in Baton Rouge, La., Cohen and researchers from UPMC's new Senior Sports and Fitness Program began conducting comprehensive health surveys on senior athletes. This ongoing project marked the first time such data had been collected among a large group of top senior athletes, said Cohen."There had been a lot of sports medicine research on collegiate athletes, high school athletes, older weekend warriors — but nothing on high-achieving senior athletes," he noted.

Cohen and Freddie H. Fu, professor and chairperson of the Pitt medical school's Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, co-chair the Pittsburgh local organizing committee, the local group that launched the city's bid for the games. Cohen said he and Fu first heard of the National Senior Games while surfing the World Wide Web a few years ago.

"I must admit that when we came across [the NSGA web site], we didn't know anything about it," Cohen said. "When we saw that they put on the Senior Olympic Games, we thought: This would be a great thing to get involved in, from the standpoint at least of doing medical research on senior Olympians."

Soon, he and Fu began looking into what it would take for Pittsburgh to host the games. County chief executive Roddey, a former patient of Fu's ("I'm able to stand up straight because of Freddie's great work," he said) remembered the day that Fu phoned to ask what Roddey thought of bringing the National Senior Games to Pittsburgh.

"I said, 'That's a great idea, but what's involved?' Freddie said, 'Well, I don't know, but we'll figure it out.' That's typical Freddie."

The Senior Olympics is expected to draw more then 35,000 people to Pittsburgh. "A conservative estimate of the economic impact to the region would be $35 million," said Joseph McGrath, president and CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But playing host to the 2005 games is expected to cost $2.5 million, which the Pittsburgh local organizing committee plans to raise from corporations and foundations.

–Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 8

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