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USOC hires FBI executive as its athlete safety director

By: EDDIE PELLS , AP National Writer
May 21, 2018 Updated: May 21, 2018 at 3:17 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)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Olympic Committee hired an FBI executive as senior director of athlete safety, marking its latest effort to strengthen sex-abuse policies that are being rewritten in the wake of cases involving Olympic athletes.

Wendy Guthrie comes to the USOC after spending the past six years as senior executive of human resources at the FBI. Before that, she held high-ranking jobs at the Northwest and West Coast Conferences in college sports.

The USOC announced Guthrie's appointment Monday, two days before interim CEO Susanne Lyons joins other Olympic sports leaders to testify in front of a House subcommittee about the abuse issue.

The new CEOs of USA Gymnastics, Kerry Perry, and of USA Taekwondo, Steve McNally, are among those scheduled to testify.

Leadership of USA Gymnastics has been completely turned over in light of the more than 200 gymnasts who have testified to being sexually abused by Larry Nassar, the team doctor now in prison for child pornography and sexual assault. Nassar also worked for Michigan State, which last week agreed to pay $500 million to victims who sued the university.

Some gymnasts have called out the USOC for inaction in pursuing the cases, and the federation has made a number of changes that Lyons will outline in her testimony Wednesday.

One is elevating Guthrie's position.

Another is a doubling of funding to the U.S. Center for SafeSport (to $3.1 million a year), which was created by the USOC as an independent organization to investigate abuse cases in Olympic sports. It opened in March 2017 but has been overwhelmed by the number of cases that have come its way since it became the central clearinghouse for athletes in Olympic sports to bring their complaints. That organization's CEO, Shellie Pfohl, also will testify Wednesday.

Last month, gymnasts Jamie Dantzscher and Jordyn Wieberwere among those who testified in front of a Senate subcommittee looking into a similar issue. That subcommittee was supposed to hold a hearing Tuesday, but the hearing was canceled when most of the people on the witness list — including former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny and former USOC CEO Scott Blackmun — did not agree to appear. (Blackmun is battling cancer and unable to fly.)

The Wednesday hearing will feature their replacements, and one of the main questions is whether the lawmakers will focus on what went wrong or what steps can be taken to improve . Congress has the ultimate authority over the USOC through the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act. There's some thought that reopening the act to clarify the relationship between the USOC and the governing bodies of Olympic sports would be worthwhile.

"This is another chance for us to discuss our role as a catalyst for change, another opportunity to apologize," Lyons said. "If Congress has more ideas to help us put more teeth into our action plans, we're listening."

USA Taekwondo has been criticized for its handling of cases involving two-time Olympic gold medalist Steven Lopez and his brother/coach, Jean. Jean is permanently banned and Steven is on an interim suspension. Both brothers were under investigation in 2015 but were allowed to representthe United States at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics the following year while the cases were still open. Athletes such as Wieber and speedskater Bridie Farrell have portrayed Olympic sports organizations as valuing athletes only for their medal-winning potential and casting them aside once that is used up.

McNally said: "USA Taekwondo looks forward to the opportunity to place some facts on the record."

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