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By USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny

USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny (USA Gymnastics)

There is no mistaking that politics, geopolitical alliances, and relationships often influence the direction and decisions within the international Olympic Movement, resembling a microcosm of the United Nations model. In as much, we find ourselves sensitive to the cultural and philosophical nuances that can divide us and seek those that unite us through sport.

Americans face a challenge in this type of environment and have a tendency to overlook an important role as a global leader – to approach our efforts in a way that serves the movement. True leadership lies in cultivating change that represents the best interests of all involved and creates a sense of partnership with our international colleagues.

The USOC appears to be taking the proper steps to carefully re-establish its role and relationships before any future effort is made to again host the Olympic Games. The process is not like entering a horse in the Kentucky Derby, and any effort to bid on the Olympics should anticipate at least two cycles. The value of bringing the Olympics back to the United States is unquestioned, but the outstanding revenue issues need to be resolved and the geopolitics must be aligned to be effective.

Stability in our leadership is important, but equally so is having the right people out front. Constructive change has been made in the executive leadership of the USOC, which should more fully engage its internationally experienced sport leaders. The CEO should serve as the conductor with a well-tuned team that demonstrates an on-going commitment to work with the IOC and the IFs in whatever manner possible.

We must all rally around a common cause to properly integrate ourselves into the international fabric, with a strong focus on building genuine relationships with other NOCs and IFs, especially those within our region. A cohesive plan should be developed that prioritizes our role on an international basis with a large agenda versus one that appears single-minded.

We must also prioritize eradicating politics on the field of play. The world’s athletes have the right to expect that the rules apply equally to everyone; that all competitors meet the established criteria for participation; and, that impartiality will reign when their performances are judged. Leadership needs to be displayed by the various governing bodies to ensure this concept starts at the top and is applied at every level of competition.

The Olympic Movement has survived and prospered because of the human drama that is captured through incredible athletic performances. Each time an athlete steps on the field of play, they are ambassadors for everything that is right about sports. As leaders in the movement, we need to emulate this spirit in our global efforts and remain focused on helping all athletes achieve their dreams.

Op Ed written by USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny.

Penny has been a sports administrator for more than 20 years. Penny joined USA Gymnastics as vice president in 1999. As vice president he handled sponsorships, events, television, public relations, international relations and U.S. Olympic Committee affairs. He became USA Gymnastics president in April 2005.

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(Copyright 1992 2008, all rights reserved. The information in this report may not be published, excerpted, or otherwise distributed in print or broadcast without the express prior consent of Around the Rings.)

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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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Your best source of news about the Olympics is http://www.aroundtherings.com, for subscribers only.

(Copyright 1992 2008, all rights reserved. The information in this report may not be published, excerpted, or otherwise distributed in print or broadcast without the express prior consent of Around the Rings.)

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Scott Blackmun in Oct. 2001 when he served as acting USOC CEO. (ATR)

“There are no second acts in American lives,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Scott Blackmun has proven the famous American writer wrong with the announcement by the United States Olympic Committee that the gifted Colorado Springs attorney is the new Chief Executive Officer of the 115-year-old organization, charged with the task of directing our nation’s Olympic movement and revitalizing its programs, rich legacy and traditions.

Blackmun was appallingly denied the post in 2001 because of deceitful flip-flops by volunteer leaders who had whispered their support after his selfless service as the USOC’s Acting CEO during a tumultuous year in the wake of the resignation of Norman Blake and service as the organization’s Managing Director of Sport and General Counsel.

Now comes a wonderful New Year gift for the USOC and American athletes. The adroit and popular Blackmun has been selected as CEO, with the respect and endorsement of the USOC’s Board of Directors and Chairman Larry Probst.

How appropriate it is that after a nationwide search, the USOC has found its new chief executive right in the back yard of its 31-year hometown of Colorado Springs, a city that had made a solid commitment of money and resources to preserve its status as the USOC’s national headquarters for the next three decades and the community with an unmatched commitment to American athletes and many of its National Governing Bodies.

Blackmun returns to take the reins of the USOC at its most critical period in history, and it is a tough job ahead for him and the volunteers and staff of some 300 men and women at Olympic House.

The former Dartmouth soccer athlete and Stanford Law graduate is the 14th person to take a seat behind the top desk of the USOC since the often dysfunctional organization moved to the foot of Pikes Peak in 1978, an embarrassing average of 2.3 years per term for its chief executives.

Much has happened to Blackmun since he departed Colorado Springs for Los Angeles in 2002 after the USOC passed him over to hire Lloyd Ward, leading to yet another meltdown, major reform, Congressional hearings, and catastrophic image damage.

He joined the Anschutz Entertainment Group, one of the world’s most respected presenters of sports and entertainment events in the world. During his stint at AEG, Blackmun was responsible, among other things, for overseeing the Company’s venue development activities (primarily stadiums, arenas and theaters).

During his time in LA, he served on the Board of Directors of the California Chamber of Commerce and the National Sports Marketing Association’s Los Angeles chapter.

He returned to Colorado Springs in 2006 and rejoined his old law firm of Holme Roberts & Owen, specializing in his practice on sports and entertainment, with emphasis on project finance for sports and entertainment venues. He has become on of the city’s most capable and respected figures, working quietly on projects vital to the city’s relationship with the USOC and the NGBs and gaining the admiration and respect of myriad organizations and leaders.

Blackmun is savvy, smart, imaginative and he has a vision. He’s going to be very popular with the athletes, coaches and officials of the Olympic and Paralympic Teams. And, he will be a leader who recognizes the huge challenge ahead for the USOC in regaining its international clout and image that has been reduced by the events and decisions of the last decade.

He will also restore the self esteem and confidence of the USOC’s staff, shaken by the jaw-dropping departure of CEO Jim Scherr, an Olympian and a guy who came up through the ranks of USA Wrestling to steer the USOC for six years in the wake of the 2003 implosion, and the negative reporting and editorial page knifing by local media about the headquarters deal with the city it calls home.

A common thread during my quarter century of serving the USOC as its chief spokesman was the ongoing friction that developed, at various levels, between the volunteer leadership and the chief executives. At times, the relationships created distrust and a lack of clarity within an organization which carries a noble mission, one which should be a catalyst for pride among all Americans.

I want to believe that Blackmun brings to Olympic House a commitment by Probst and the Board to let him, once and for all, manage the policies they have developed, hire a world-class staff, and build the foundation for the future.

America’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes, nurtured and honed by the respected National Governing Bodies with the support and resources of the USOC, continue to achieve great success at the Games, despite the turmoil of the last two decades at Olympic House. That is a tribute to the nation’s youth and its commitment to excellence.

Now, it’s Scott Blackmun’s task to tackle the immense responsibilities that go with the management of this complex, confusing but inspirational effort. One that should be a brilliant light in the semi-darkness in a sports world sometimes troubled by drugs, excess, lack of purpose and lost respect.

It’s all about the athletes, and their dreams and hopes, nothing more. With that comes respect, admiration and inspiration that amateur sport alone can deliver to our nation.

I think, this time, the USOC has chosen the right person to restore it to the respect, credibility and popularity it has often enjoyed over more than a century.
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Mike Moran was the USOC’s chief spokesman and media executive from 1979-2003 before retiring to join NYC2012, the organization in New York City directing the bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, as its Senior Communications Counselor. He is a sports consultant and the Director of Communications for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation. He is a recipient of the USOC’s highest award, The General Douglas MacArthur Award.

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Op Ed is a weekly column of opinion and ideas from Around the Rings. Comments, as well as guest columns are welcomed: comment@aroundtherings.com

Your best source of news about the Olympics is http://www.aroundtherings.com, for subscribers only.

(Copyright 1992 2008, all rights reserved. The information in this report may not be published, excerpted, or otherwise distributed in print or broadcast without the express prior consent of Around the Rings.)

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August 24, 2002: Carlos Nuzman beams alongside PASO President Mario Vazquez Rana shortly after Rio de Janeiro won the 2007 Pan Ams at a meeting in Mexico City. (ATR)

This week’s election of a host city for the 2015 Pan American Games brings back memories of the contest for the 2007 Pan Ams in which Rio de Janeiro beat the bid from San Antonio, Texas. Plenty of lessons that the U.S. didn’t learn from that defeat that might have helped Chicago –such as don’t pick basketball Olympian David Robinson for your team.

The vote by the Pan American Sports Organization General Assembly August 24, 2002 it turns out, clearly foreshadowed the Rio de Janeiro victory for the 2016 Olympics and as well reasons for Chicago’s demise.

We’ve written frequently about the continuity of leadership that helped propel the Rio Olympic forward and the disconnects that have plagued the U.S. For Rio, the story goes back to 2002 with the 2007 Pan Ams bid.

The bid was led by Carlos Nuzman, IOC member, president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee – and one and the same leader for the Rio Olympic bid seven years later. At his side, Carlos Roberto Osorio, Nuzman’s deputy for the 2007 Pan Am bid who reprised the role for the 2016 Olympics bid.

The dynamic duo were not alone – other staff from Rio and the Brazilian Olympic Committee also made the seven year journey from Pan Am bid to Olympics bid, a consistency no other bid in the 2016 race could match.

The Brazilians dealt with a setback in 2004 when the IOC rejected a Rio bid for 2012 in the early going. The IOC made it clear that Rio lacked the experience of a Pan American Games.

Nuzman and supporters celebrate the Pan Am victory that would become a stepping stone to the 2016 Olympics. (ATR)

That was cured in July 2007, with IOC President Jacques Rogge and dozens of other IOC members on hand to witness one of the better Pan Am Games in the 50 years of the event. The timing could not have been more perfect for the Brazilians. The deadline to apply to the IOC for the 2016 Olympics came just days after the close of the 2007 Pan Ams.

Now flip back the pages in the history book to the chapter for the U.S. Olympic Committee, circa 2002.

Wracked that year by a series of leadership crises, this was the nadir of an era in which the USOC truly earned its reputation as dysfunctional.

The USOC President who addressed the PASO Assembly in Mexico City on behalf of the San Antonio bid was Marty Mankamyer. A real estate agent who served on the USOC board and was elected president just weeks before the Pan Am vote, she had no international experience.

Mankamyer was called to fill the breach when Sandy Baldwin resigned as USOC president, brought down by falsified academic credentials on her resume. When Baldwin left the USOC, she was forced to resign a seat on the IOC to which she had been elected just months before in her capacity as USOC President. It’s a seat the U.S. has never reclaimed.

Besides a revolving door for USOC Presidents, the USOC was also dealing with CEO changes. In 2002 Lloyd Ward held the job, the second corporate hot shot in a row hired for the post without a background in the world of the Olympics – or sport, for that matter. Ward’s style and inability to connect with the national governing bodies or other stakeholders in the U.S. Olympic Movement doomed his tenure before he resigned under pressure from the U.S. Congress in early 2003.

USOC President Marty Mankamyer casts her vote in the election for the 2007 Pan Am host. She would be out of office months later. (ATR)

That was the year reforms for the USOC were put into place, the rules that govern the USOC today, meant to cure governance problems.

As the USOC now searches for its seventh CEO of the decade, one wonders whether much has changed at the USOC.

The naming of Peter Ueberroth as chair of the reformed USOC in 2004 seemed to provide a lift internationally. But a year later, the U.S. lost the New York bid for the 2012 Olympics. While the New York bid suffered a blow when government leaders killed plans for an Olympic Stadium, relations between the bid and the Ueberroth led USOC were often acrimonious.

Still, under Ueberroth the USOC seemed to settle down. A new international relations staff seemed to revitalize the outreach of the USOC.

But then – almost predictably — the revolving door at the USOC started spinning again last year, badly-timed with the last phase of the Chicago bid for the 2016 Olympics. The continuity represented by Ueberroth vanished as he left as chair. His successor, Larry Probst, from the corporate world, came without any Olympics background.

In March, with six months to go before the IOC 2016 vote, the Probst-led USOC Board of Directors dumped CEO Jim Scherr and elevated Stephanie Streeter to the post, for reasons never made clear. It was a maladroit move that only the USOC could deliver. Streeter, like Probst, an unknown to the Olympics with a corporate background, replaced Scherr, an Olympian, who had done much in his five years to convince Olympic Movement stakeholders that some stability had returned to the USOC.

While trumpeting the change as best for the USOC, for the Chicago bid it maybe was the worst that could happen. Once again the USOC had found a way to unplug itself from the Olympic Movement at exactly the time it needed to lend its credibility to a valiant bid from a U.S. city. In 2002 the disconnect may have cost San Antonio; in 2009 the victim was Chicago.

He’s a great guy, but bad luck for the U.S.? David Robinson towers over Barbados IOC member Austin Sealy at the at 2002 PASO assembly. Robinson is believed to be the only person who officially lobbied for both the San Antonio Pan Am bid and Chicago 2016. (ATR)

This week Probst and Streeter head to Guadalajara to attend their first Pan Am General Assembly. While it’s a bit late for Chicago, Probst appears to realize that the future of the next U.S. bid is at stake with what he does today – and it may be as many as 25 years before that bid happens. And maybe after observing the spoils of the Pan American Games enjoyed by Rio, USOC leaders might think more highly of a Pan Am bid, instead of dismissing the event.

As someone who is said to be knowledgeable about the qualities of fine wine, Probst must certainly understand the toils that must take place in the vineyard years before a vintage is ready for the bottle.

One other lesson for a future U.S. bid to learn from the San Antonio and Chicago campaigns: don’t invite Olympian and NBA star David Robinson. Robinson, it turns out, is the only direct link between the two bids, appearing for both in the final hours of their campaigns.

As dashing as the two-meter+ Robinson looked in a cowboy hat, the then San Antonio Spurs All Star could not help Pan Am bid seven years ago at the PASO general assembly in Mexico City.

Now retired from the NBA, the three-time Olympian was back in the U.S. bid business last month in Copenhagen as a member of the athlete delegation supporting the Chicago bid. Working the lobby of the IOC hotel, Robinson and his sizable charm was still not enough to put a win in the U.S. column.

Written by Ed Hula.

For general comments or questions, click here.

Your best source of news about the Olympics is http://www.aroundtherings.com, for subscribers only.

(Copyright 1992 2008, all rights reserved. The information in this report may not be published, excerpted, or otherwise distributed in print or broadcast without the express prior consent of Around the Rings.)

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