The USOC's slow, steady progress

ACAPULCO -- The fifth IOC World Conference on Women and Sport will be held in Los Angeles in February,  2012. The next International Athletes' Forum will take place in Colorado Springs, Colo., in October, 2011.

If you looked really, really hard in the "transactions" section of your local sports section, buried there in the agate type, you might have seen the announcement here Tuesday from the International Olympic Committee about both events.

Or not. Neither is Super Bowl Media Day, for sure.

But both, in their way, are big -- not just because they matter in Olympic circles but because they underscore the dawn of what could and should be a new era in the U.S. Olympic Committee's complicated relationship with the IOC.

A year after Chicago got trounced in the 2016 bid contest, the USOC -- under the direction of chairman Larry Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun -- is, appropriately and responsibly, surely and deliberately, doing what needs to be done to develop and nurture the relationships that in the Olympic movement make things happen.

The awarding of the two conferences offers evidence of just that.

"I think that there is no issue about the Chicago elimination any more," IOC president Jacques Rogge said here at a news conference that wrapped up week-long meetings of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees and then the IOC's policy-making executive board.

"There might have been an emotional issue for some time. I think our American friends were very gracious in accepting the [2016] decision," Rogge said, adding a moment later that the events in Los Angeles and in Colorado Springs, where the USOC is headquartered, will be "very well-organized" and allow the IOC "to come back to a continent we have not been to very much."

That would be a gentle understatement.

By "continent" Rogge really means in this instance the United States, since of course the 2010 Games were in Canada.

The IOC was in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Games and then not again, at least formally, until March, 2009, at a meeting in Denver -- and at that Denver meeting some senior IOC officials took the opportunity to berate the USOC over longstanding disputes that revolve around the USOC's singular shares of IOC marketing and broadcasting revenues.

So -- here came the attacks even as the IOC was being hosted by an American city. That's how unpleasant it had become.

"The USOC is in much better shape now," a senior IOC member said here in Acapulco, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We really want to get them back into the mainstream."

The USOC, to be sure, still has a long way to go.

There hasn't been an American on the IOC board for nearly five years, and that doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon.

Moreover, compare these numbers: The United States has three IOC members. Italy has four. Switzerland has five.

"There is quiet talk around the bar about increasing the numbers of the U.S. members," the senior IOC figure also said. "Plus, there needs to be one really active member - especially if there's a bid."

Neither of the two senior U.S. IOC members -- Anita DeFrantz and Jim Easton -- has the disposition of, say, Brazil's Carlos Nuzman, a whirlwind of enthusiasm who helped deliver Rio the 2016 Games. The third U.S. member, Angela Ruggiero, was just elected earlier this year.

At any rate, there isn't now an American bid for the Games. It's quite possible there won't be one for several more years.

Even so, the USOC is indeed in much better shape. It's simple why:

First, Probst committed himself fully after the 2016 debacle to the chairmanship.

Second, he hired Blackmun.

In concert, they have spent a good part of 2010 traveling the world. This is a part of the Olympic game that officials from other places have long mastered; it matters to be seen.

Finally, the USOC and IOC came to terms this year on the first piece of the financial puzzle, an $18-million deal involving an agreed-upon American share of the administrative costs of staging the Olympics.

That sets the stage for negotiations over the broadcast and marketing shares -- at some point, unclear when. The USOC gets 20 percent of top-tier marketing fees and 12.75 percent of the U.S. broadcast fee, figures that some have called too high.

That "Games costs" deal also helps set the table for the 2011 negotiation over U.S. broadcast rights for the 2014 and 2016 Games. NBC has served as U.S. broadcaster since 2000; a number of U.S. outlets are believed to be interested in the 2014 and 2016 rights contest.

"We have an appealing organization for these broadcasters and I believe it's going to be a very competitive discussion to see who the winner will be," Rogge said.

Probst spent a full week in Acapulco. Blackmun, sporting a black sling after shoulder surgery, spent five days here. They went to meetings. They went to banquets. They bought drinks in the open-air Fairmont Princess hotel bar.

A lot of IOC relationship-building -- that quiet talk -- gets done at the bar. Even by IOC standards, however, the bar scene at the Princess was truly a scene (conference organizers had deemed it unsafe to leave the Fairmont compound, citing the narco-violence in and around Acapulco, and so the hotel bar was the only option). Probst and Blackmun could readily be seen -- obviously glad to be there but nonetheless subdued, modest, wholly appropriate at all moments.

Probst was named to the ANOC executive council. He delivered a speech on marketing. The USOC signed a deal with the Brazilian Olympic Committee on athlete exchanges and training.

And then came the announcement on the L.A. and Colorado Springs events -- precisely the sort of thing the USOC ought to be going after, evidence that it's in the movement for all the right reasons.

Not -- and this is the No. 1 knock against the Americans -- just to make money.

"There has been a dramatic change," Probst told the Associated Press. "The whole relationship is just feeling much better than a year ago. That's good both for the U.S. and the Olympic movement."