USOC Under Fire For Olympic-Sized Missteps Three weeks after Chicago's first-round rejection in the bidding for the 2016 Summer Games, Olympic athletes and sports executives are demanding major change in the U.S. Olympic Committee. At stake, some say, is support for American athletes and the quest to host Olympic Games in the United States.
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USOC Under Fire For Olympic-Sized Missteps

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USOC Under Fire For Olympic-Sized Missteps

USOC Under Fire For Olympic-Sized Missteps

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We don't know if they have an air bag to deploy, but it does look like the United States Olympic Committee has hit some trouble. The committee is back in crisis mode after years of turmoil and just three weeks after Chicago's bid of the 2016 Summer Games was rejected. Olympic athletes and sports executives are again demanding major change.

NPR's Howard Berkes tells us why.

HOWARD BERKES: Rebellion was already brewing in the U.S. Olympic world when this was announced October 2nd.

Mr. JACQUES ROGGE (President, International Olympic Committee): The city of Chicago, having obtained the least number of votes, will not participate in the next round.

BERKES: Chicago's early exit from the 2016 Olympic bidding unleashed pent-up frustration among athletes and Olympic sports federations. Lisa Delpy Neirotti is an Olympic scholar at George Washington University.

Ms. LISA DELPY NEIROTTI (Olympic Scholar, George Washington University): That's when they came out with their guns slinging. They withheld their complaints and their unhappiness until the Chicago bid was done.

BERKES: The first casualty is Stephanie Streeter, the acting CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, who announced she wouldn't seek her job permanently. Streeter is the latest in a string of U.S. Olympic leaders with solid corporate credentials, but little or no Olympic or sports experience. It's a familiar formula to Olympic journalist Meri-Jo Borzilleri.

Ms. MERI-JO BORZILLERI (Journalist): The USOC went through four presidents and four CEOs between 2000 and 2003. And while you haven't seen that rate of change now, you're seeing the same sort of instability and inner turmoil that you saw back then.

BERKES: At stake is the U.S. Olympic Committee's core mission, says Skip Gilbert, who runs USA Triathlon.

Mr. SKIP GILBERT (USA Triathlon): If all of the energy is trying to right the ship, if you will, is that taking away from the energy needed to create programs to bring better athletes into the pipeline, to develop them for Olympic competition? And we would hate for something to fall through the cracks that could, at any level, put any of our athletes or any of our sports at a disadvantage.

BERKES: This dissatisfaction focuses on departing CEO Stephanie Streeter and board chairman Larry Probst.

Mr. DOUG LOGAN (USA Track and Field): These are two of the highest sports jobs in the country, and they're right now being filled by two people with no sports experience.

BERKES: Doug Logan heads USA Track and Field and joined the majority of Olympic sports executives in a recent vote of no confidence in the top U.S. Olympic leadership.

Mr. LOGAN: Sports is not rocket science. But by the same token, it is a business in and of itself that has got its own set of relationships, which are rather unique. And to fill both of those jobs by individuals who have no knowledge or experience with sports - that's got to be rethought.

BERKES: Some Olympic athletes have the same concern. Former triple jumper Willie Banks heads the U.S. Olympians Association.

Mr. WILLIE BANKS (U.S. Olympians Association): They have a great understanding of how a corporation should be run, but unfortunately, that is not what we have here. The understanding that they lack is that this is a public trust, we don't sell anything, we raise money to put a team out on the field of play during the Olympic Games.

BERKES: The athletes and sports executives also want more say in U.S. Olympic policy. Board Chairman Larry Probst was not available for an interview by NPR's deadline. But in a teleconference earlier this month, he seemed to agree with his critics with this description of the ideal U.S. Olympic CEO.

Mr. LARRY PROBST (U.S. Olympic Committee Board Chair): It's somebody that has the executive skills that Stephanie has, married with a background in sports; someone who is multilingual; someone who is willing to make a very long-term commitment, and that we believe can build the long-term relationships that we need to have with IOC members.

BERKES: Those references to the International Olympic Committee and to language skills address other perceived weaknesses in the U.S. Olympic leadership. Probst also acknowledged the disenfranchised and divisive atmosphere.

Mr. PROBST: We want buy-in and support from all the constituencies, so that we're all on the same page and all moving together in a positive fashion.

BERKES: Probst has meetings scheduled, this week, with Olympic athletes, sports executives, and other members of the Olympic family to try to stem the turmoil. He hopes to have a new CEO hired by the end of the year, but he says he won't step down.

Howard Berkes, NPR News.

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