The USOC's "new direction" (for real)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- A year after Chicago's "devastating" 2016 loss, a regrouped U.S. Olympic Committee can rightly call the past 12 months extraordinarily challenging and yet "one of the best" years ever, USOC chairman Larry Probst asserted Friday. In addresses to the annual USOC assembly, Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun pointed to, among other accomplishments, 37 medals won by American athletes at the Vancouver Games, key top-tier sponsor deals, a far-reaching study aimed at re-making the USOC board, re-engagement with domestic groups such as national governing body officials and intensive relationship-building internationally.

Blackmun called it a "new direction," one that he told the hundreds gathered for the USOC's annual assembly ought to make "us all incredibly proud to say we are part of the United States Olympic Committee."

The tone and tenor, along with the substance itself, of Friday's remarks served as an unveiling of sorts of a USOC with clearly articulated plans -- even, in a marked change given the USOC's historic zigs and zags, a remarkably defined vision, both near- and long-term.

All of it, and in particular the vision thing, both Probst and Blackmun made clear, is rooted in a thorough re-evaluation tied to Chicago's first-round defeat last Oct. 2 in Copenhagen in the International Olympic Committee's 2016 voting.

Rio de Janeiro won. Chicago, despite a first-rate technical plan and unprecedented leadership that extended to the White House -- President Obama even making a last-minute personal appeal in Copenhagen to the IOC -- was unceremoniously sent off in the first round, with only 18 votes.

In some of the most frank comments on the matter ever delivered from senior USOC leadership on the matter, Probst on Friday said Chicago's loss was not just "devastating" but  "shocking."

He also said, "It was a bid of incredible technical merit and social promise. And yet we lost tragically in Round One."

The loss, and a wave of ferocious criticism it unleashed, some from NGB officials, "opened my eyes to the fact that we had serious problems within our own family" and convinced him that "nothing short of a full transformation in our relationships and our governance was needed," Probst said.

He said, "The situation called for a year of real action, which I would describe as significant and sustainable change."


Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was commissioned to lead a study that likely will see the USOC board expanded here from 11 to 15 members, among other changes.

In January, Blackmun was hired as chief executive.

Probst began traveling the world -- now with a clear understanding that in the  nuanced world of IOC politics, the USOC board chairman holds senior protocol status and must be the American point person.

The USOC and IOC recently announced, in the aftermath of worldwide sponsor deals cut with Proctor & Gamble and Dow Chemical, a deal under which the USOC would help underwrite certain so-called administrative "Games costs." The amount, which neither side would publicly confirm: $18 million.

That deal sets the table for more complex negotiations aimed at resolving a long-standing tensions between the USOC and IOC over the USOC's singular shares of certain IOC revenues. The USOC gets 12.75 percent of the U.S. broadcast rights fee package and 20 percent of worldwide marketing revenues; some have called those shares unfair.

No timetable has been set for resolution of the revenue-splits dispute, Probst said Friday.

Moreover, Blackmun said, the USOC has no plan to bid for the Games any time soon. Asked in an informal news conference if he could definitively rule out a 2020 Summer Games bid -- the IOC will pick the 2020 site in 2013 -- Blackmun declined to do so but called the notion "highly unlikely."

Blackmun, in his address to the assembly, also unveiled a wide-ranging strategic plan that called, among other matters, for the USOC to develop relationships with government leaders in Washington, to formally define its Paralympic commitment and to ensure return on investment on the millions spent on projects such as the Olympic Training Centers scattered throughout the country.

"First and foremost," Blackmun said, "we have to earn the credibility and trust of our constituents and partners," adding a moment later, "We lost that credibility and we lost that trust."

As Probst, a few moments earlier, had said, "In many ways, last year was a year of earning trust. Trust doesn't happen because of titles or past accomplishments. Trust doesn't come from promises. Trust belongs to the province of relationships. You build trust by earning respect, and developing friendships, both at home and abroad.

"And I think the journey we've begun is headed in the direction of real trust and genuine respect."