LAUSANNE, Switzerland — It’s nearly four years ago now that Chicago got thumped when the International Olympic Committee voted for the 2016 Summer Games host city.
For the U.S. Olympic Committee, that was, indisputably, the low point.
It’s worth bearing in mind all the time and miles in between then and now amid Tuesday’s announcement by the International Olympic Committee of the nomination of nine new members, U.S. Olympic Committee board chair Larry Probst among them.
Probst’s membership is for sure a milestone. Over time, it’s likely to means more influence for the United States within the IOC, and as the USOC is considering bids for future Games — in particular, as soon as 2024 — that could be key.
At the same time, the United States still has a long, long way to go in becoming a power player in the IOC along the lines of, say, Switzerland, with five members.
For now, what Probst’s membership marks is, simply, yet another step in the USOC’s effort at quiet diplomacy.
He — and the other new members – will be sworn in at the end of the all-members assembly in September in Buenos Aires. They will not, repeat not, take part in the voting there.
At that September session, the IOC will elect a new president, replacing Jacques Rogge, who has been in office since 2001, as well as pick the site of the 2020 Summer Games. Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul are in the race. All three bid cities are making presentations here Wednesday in Lausanne to the full IOC. All six presidential candidates are likewise making presentations Thursday.
Four new athlete members, meanwhile, are due to be sworn in Wednesday. They were elected in voting from the London Games and will be eligible to vote in September.
When the nine new members are brought on board, assuming no other changes, that will bring the IOC membership to 113, spokesman Mark Adams said Tuesday.
Notable among the nine — only one is from Asia, Mikaela Maria Antonia Cojuangco-Jaworski of the Philippines.
The list includes famed long-distance runner Paul Tergat of Kenya and Athens 2004 high-jump champion Stefan Holm of Sweden.
It also features the head of the Russian national Olympic committee, Alexander Zhukov. The next Winter Olympics, in February, will be held in Sochi.
Russia will then have four members.
The U.S., too — when Probst is sworn in, the Americans will count him, Anita DeFrantz, Jim Easton and Angela Ruggiero.
Even so, the U.S. has for years lacked significant political influence within the IOC.
DeFrantz has been a member since 1986. She served on the policy-making executive board from 1992 to 2001. She has since run for office unsuccessfully; she is standing this September again for the board.
Easton has in recent years played a markedly reduced role.
Ruggiero is widely seen as an up-and-comer. At the same time, as an athlete member, she is already three years through her fixed term of eight years.
Thus Probst’s entry is widely seen as an important step in bringing back a measure of American influence.
“The U.S. is a very strong and important partner of the IOC,” Adams said at a briefing Tuesday at the IOC’s Lake Geneva headquarters, the Chateau de Vidy. “Larry’s nomination is a sign of that and a sign of continuing cooperation with the USOC.”
For his part, Probst said in a statement released by the USOC, “I am truly honored to be nominated for membership in the IOC, and extremely grateful for the potential opportunity to serve the Olympic Movement.”
Last year, the USOC and IOC resolved a longstanding dispute over certain television and marketing revenues. Probst’s nomination is a reflection of that ongoing USOC-IOC “cooperation.” It is by no means a quid pro quo for the deal.
Probst becomes the first USOC president — as the jargon goes — as IOC member since Sandy Baldwin. That’s 11 years ago.
Bill Hybl served as USOC president and IOC member for two years, 2000-01.
Before that, you have to go back to Bob Helmick. He stepped down in 1991.
Again, Probst’s entry is important. But it’s just one step. It must be reiterated that the USOC has to be thinking in terms of the long run in assessing the political calculus of a Games bid.
There are 35 Olympic sports, summer and winter. The United States has no presidents among any of those 35 federations. It has one — just one — secretary general from among any of the 35, Svein Romstad, who runs the luge federation from, of all places, Atlanta.
Last year, American Doug Beal ran for the presidency of the international volleyball federation. The convention and election were held in Anaheim, Calif. Even so, he did not win.
The United States does, in fact, boast some international sports federation presidents. But they are not Olympic sports. They are in sports such as softball, surfing and cheerleading.
Then again, the situation now is better — way better — than in October, 2009, when Chicago got rocked.
U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati was elected in April to a four-year term to the FIFA executive committee.
USA Basketball chief executive Jim Tooley is in line to become FIBA Americas president for 2014-18.
Max Cobb, the USA Biathlon president and chief executive, heads the International Biathlon Union’s technical committee.
These things, simply, take time.
This is what Probst came to understand in Copenhagen in October, 2009.
Before that, he did not totally understand how demanding the USOC board chairman’s job was. Nor did he grasp fully how much time and how much travel it was going to take.
The next January, Scott Blackmun came on board as the USOC’s chief executive.
Together, they vowed to repair the USOC’s standing in international relations.
They said, privately and publicly, that relationship-building took time and effort. They said they were in it for the long haul.
Instead of sending staffers to meetings, Probst or Blackmun — sometimes both — started showing up.
Now, Probst and Blackmun serve on IOC committees. Probst is, as well, on the board of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees.
Blackmun, for that matter, is here in Lausanne for the second time in three weeks. He was here the first time for the ANOC assembly and is back now for an IOC marketing commission meeting.
It’s active engagement. That’s what it takes. That’s what got Probst nominated Tuesday.
It’s going to take more — a lot more — to win the United States an Olympic Games. Everyone should keep that in mind.