ATR Editor Ed Hula
(ATR) The U.S. Olympic Committee takes the first steps in what will be an 18-year journey to the 2028 Olympics – the next time the Summer Games could possibly return to the U.S.
The hiring of Scott Blackmun as chief executive of the USOC last week has been greeted warmly in the U.S. and internationally. Well-regarded for his demeanor, knowledge and experience at the USOC, there is none of the second-guessing that has marked the tenure of nearly everyone else who has held the job in the past 10 years.
He will start work at the end of the month, just in time for the Vancouver Olympics, where the U.S. could finish second or third in the medals table. That’s a respectable tally that shows that all is not rotten in the state of Colorado. While the wheels may have come off the USOC’s international bandwagon with failed Olympic bids, the U.S. is still a world leader preparing its team for the Olympics and Paralympics.
With a consensus leader for the USOC in Blackmun, maybe the stage is set for him to steer the U.S. to a podium finish when the contest involves bids for the Games and other events.
Well before the U.S. manages to win the big prize — the Summer Olympics — Blackmun may be wise to consider some smaller ones along the way, such as Pan American Games, Youth Olympics or world championships. Now 52, Blackmun should have the time needed to make it all happen, given a long tenure at the USOC.
“Those are all things we need to think about. Hosting those kinds of events are good for us,” said Blackmun at the press conference announcing his hiring last week.
It’s the first talk in a long time of anything except the Summer Olympics from the USOC, which has been fixated since the 1990s on winning another Summer Olympics, to the exclusion of other sports events.
But after the IOC swatted away bids from New York City and Chicago, there’s no talk of launching a 2020 bid, which would almost certainly be rejected by the IOC. With Rio de Janeiro hosting 2016, any candidate from the Americas would seem to be out of the running for 2020.
Indeed, instead of bidding for 2020 or even the 2024 Olympics, the USOC could use that time (between 2011 and 2017) to curry goodwill among the other cities bidding for those Games. The U.S. could play a role in bringing the Olympics back to Asia, to Africa and to Paris for the centennial of 1924 Games. Depending on how well the U.S. plays the game, the USOC might be able to collect some IOUs from the Olympic Movement to be cashed-in for the 2028 vote.
In the meantime, there are more immediate opportunities for bids from the U.S. for Olympic-level events that would help earn street credibility for the USOC. The 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games or the 2018 Summer YOG will be coming up for decisions in a year or two. So far the USOC is mum on a bid, even though Lake Placid seems willing to consider 2016. Blackmun’s hire at the USOC should be an encouragement to the crowd from upstate New York.
For the past eight years, the USOC has resolutely dismissed Winter Olympic bids from suitors such as Reno/Tahoe, Lake Placid and Denver, while fixated on summer bids. Maybe the USOC will change its tune without the Summer Olympics so much a speck on the horizon.
Indeed, the declining interest in the number of cities seeking the Winter Games may put the U.S. in a position to present a bid that would “save” the Winter Olympics. The U.S. could make a persuasive case that it could stage Games with the potential for commercial and public success. Winter Games in 2022 would seem to be the first possibility.
Then there are the Pan American Games, an event the U.S. last hosted in 1987 in Indianapolis. In a 2002 vote laden with foreshadowing for the race for the 2016 Olympics, Rio de Janeiro won the 2007 Pan Ams over San Antonio, Texas. Those Pan Ams ended up the cornerstone of Rio’s successful Olympic bid.
Arguably, the U.S. can’t expect to win any Olympic bid without the support of nations in the Americas; a winning U.S. Pan Am bid would be evidence that it has that backyard-backing. But that won’t be any guarantee of continental fealty.
The U.S. presumably already has competition for the next Summer Olympics in North America: Toronto, which bid for 1996 and 2008. Just chosen as the host for the 2015 Pan Am Games, Toronto may have moved ahead of any U.S. city as the favorite when it comes time for the IOC to bring the Summer Olympics back to the Americas.
And with Toronto hosting 2015, the U.S. is probably out of the running for the 2019 Pan Ams in favor of a Latin America candidate. That means 2023 may be the first chance for the U.S. to host those games, with a bid campaign between 2015 and 2017.
Aside from these multi-sport events, the USOC has other ways to inculcate itself with the Olympic movement in the years ahead.
Hosting world championships in the Olympic sports has come a bit easier to U.S. cities than bids for the Games. Boxing, gymnastics, figure skating football and archery have recently held their top events in the U.S. But long-overdue championships in athletics, basketball and swimming still speak to the impotence of the U.S. in Olympic sports. One reason: the absence of U.S. leaders at the top table of the Olympic sports.
Out of 28 Summer and seven Winter Olympic sports just one — golf — has Americans leading the federation, albeit in shared positions with counterparts from Great Britain. Until 2008, the U.S. had two international federation presidents, Don Porter for softball, Harvey Schiller for baseball. But the elimination of both sports from the Olympic program ended that, another symptom of the malaise the U.S. suffers on the international front.
High hopes for the administration of Scott Blackmun are based on the belief that he understands there will be no instant gratification for the USOC from winning an Olympic bid. As a USOC leader 10 years ago, he’s well acquainted with challenges he faces, some of which still linger from his previous tenure.
It’s a long-term fix that Blackmun must put in place, but unlike some others who have been USOC CEO, he won’t need a course in Olympics 101 to find Lausanne, Switzerland, on a map — or know how to pronounce it correctly.
Written by Ed Hula
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