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David Ramsey: US Olympic Committee is comfortable in a state of crisis

March 5, 2018 Updated: March 25, 2018 at 8:41 pm
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A flag symbolizing the United States Olympics flies over the entrance of the Olympic Training Center and the current headquarters of the USOC in Colorado Springs on Thursday, August 20, 2009. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

The United States Olympic Committee faces a crisis. The crisis is a new one. The USOC in crisis is not new.

Reports of sexual abuse, particularly in USA Gymnastics and USA Swimming, have rocked the USOC. The 21st century has been filled with such shakiness. Resignations have been common. CEOs come and go, often with extreme rapidity.

This century has included dozens of golden moments for America’s Olympic Movement. Michael Phelps won 28 medals, became The World’s Swimmer and is a contender for the greatest Olympian of all time. Americans won 103 medals in the 2012 London Games and 121 medals at the 2016 Rio Games.

Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Games, the first time America has played host to the Olympics since the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games and the first Summer Games since Atlanta hosted in 1996.

But there’s been consistent trouble, too.

In 2001, Lloyd Ward took over as the USOC’s CEO. He was a former college basketball player who had served as CEO of Maytag Corp. He charmed USOC board members in his interview.

He lasted 16 months.

U.S. Olympic Committe CEO Lloyd Ward addresses questions during a news conference after the USOC executive committee special meeting in Denver on Monday, Jan. 13, 2003. The meeting was called after Ward attempted to steer business to a company with ties to his brother. A USOC ethics committee said Ward should have handled the situation differently and should have filed a written disclosure of his brother's financial interest in the company. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski) 

Colorado senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in judo, had repeatedly called for Ward to resign. He compared the USOC to Enron, a bankrupt energy company that set the standard for American scandal.

“Clearly, the time is over for nepotism, for cronyism, for featherbedding and lack of transparency and openness in the USOC,” Campbell said.

Ward departed after being punished for violating the USOC’s ethics code. A month before his resignation, he had been denied his $184,200 bonus for ethics violations.

He did not leave quietly.

“Competing interests,” Ward said in a farewell statement, created a situation where the USOC’s CEO faced an “untenable, if not impossible role.”

Ward received no severance because he resigned.

In 2009, Chicago was making a heavy push to host the 2016 Summer  Games. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, a Chicago native, were enthusiastic cheerleaders in the crusade.

CEO Jim Scherr, a former Olympic wrestler, had led the United States to 110 medals at the 2008 Beijing Games and served as a prime force to bring the Olympics back to America.

USOC CEO Jim Scherr poses for a portrait in the Olympic Training Center Visitors Center Wednesday, May 14, 2008. The Gazette, Mark Reis 

In March, 2009, Scherr resigned after a vote by the USOC board.

He was replaced by Stephanie Streeter, a member of the board that removed Scherr. She declined to answer questions about her role in Scherr’s departure.     

“I think it’s old news,” Streeter said in 2009. “And I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t already been said. I mean, Jim did a great job while he was here and the board of directors thought it was time for a change and made that change.”

Seven months later, the International Olympic Committee announced Chicago’s elimination from consideration for the 2016 Games. Chicago received only 18 of 94 votes.

Five days after that announcement, Streeter stepped down. She had served seven months.

At the time, the USOC was struggling with its relationship with the IOC. A strong Chicago bid had been immediately dismissed.

Dick Ebersol was the guru of NBC’s TV presentation of the Olympics. On the day of Streeter’s resignation, Ebersol said the USOC “has clearly lost its way.”

Ebersol wanted what millions of Americans wanted.

“I don’t believe there ever will be another Olympics in the U.S. until the USOC really gets its act together,” he said.

After Streeter’s departure, Scott Blackmun was named CEO. He stabilized the USOC’s finances, improved the USOC’s relationship with the IOC and helped bring the Olympics back to American soil. He served longer than any CEO since F. Don Miller, who left the USOC in 1985.

But a fresh scandal brought the familiar state of crisis back to the USOC.

Blackmun resigned last week.

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