Bill Marolt

The Phelps suspension: why the rush to judgment?


Cross-country ski champion Petter Northug was sentenced last Thursday in court in Norway to 50 days behind bars after being convicted of drunk driving. Which brings us to Michael Phelps, the 24/7 media spin cycle we live in and the rush to judgment that led to the significant suspension USA Swimming levied against Phelps for his recent DUI arrest in Baltimore. What was to be gained by USA Swimming rushing to this judgment? More — what was lost by waiting?

Clearly, USA Swimming did what it felt like it needed to do. In some quarters, it is getting kudos for taking decisive action. But was it appropriate — or, better, right?

Norway's Petter Northug at the Sochi Games // photo Getty Images

At issue are several thoroughly basic principles.

One, the media is not running anything. We can’t even run ourselves. Who cares if we are shouting? Or tweeting? Seriously. This is what is called a diversity of opinion. The counterpoint to that is called calm leadership.

Two, bad facts make for bad law. This is elemental. Phelps’ case is not one on which to make, or rest, broad-based policy.

Three, as everyone who has read Orwell knows, all the animals on the farm are not equal. Or are they? Which is it going to be?

To recap:

Phelps, 29, is charged with DUI, excessive speed and crossing double lane lines. Police stopped him outside the Fort McHenry tunnel at 1:40 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 30, saying he was going 84 in a 45 zone; he had spent the hours before at the Horseshoe Casino. Police say his blood alcohol level was 0.14; the state’s legal limit is 0.08. Phelps is due to appear in court on Nov. 19.

The arrest is Phelps’ second for drunk driving. He pleaded guilty to driving while impaired in 2004.

USA Swimming did not suspend him after the 2004 case.

Five years ago, British tabloids published a photo of Phelps with his face in a bong.

USA Swimming suspended him in 2009 for three months.

For those unfamiliar with cross-country skiing, Northug won four medals, two gold, at the Vancouver 2010 Games. When you include medals won at world championships, he is right up there with the legendary Bjorn Daehlie.

Northug, 28, crashed his Audi while driving the first week of May. His blood alcohol level was more than eight times the Norwegian legal limit, according to Reuters. Norway’s limit is 0.02. A friend who was in the car was slightly hurt. Northug was not injured.

Northug was also fined $30,000 and banned from driving for life; Associated Press said that “normally means a minimum of five years.”

The accident and aftermath have been front-page news for months in winter sports-crazed Norway. Northug said, according to reports, that the episode would “follow me throughout my whole life.”

Here is the kicker:

The Norwegian Ski Assn., according to AP, said it would not punish Northug because his accident “had nothing to do with competition or training.”

The association president, Erik Roeste, told the Norwegian news agency NTB, “It’s not in sports regulations to punish him from our side in any way.”

So how did USA Swimming come to sanction Phelps?

Through Section 304.3.19 of its rule book.

It allows sanctions for “any other material and intentional act, conduct or omission not provided for above, which is detrimental to the image or reputation of USA Swimming, a LSC (local swimming committee) or the sport of swimming.”

Six days after Phelps’ arrest, USA Swimming announced it had suspended him for six months and he had withdrawn, by mutual agreement with the federation, from the U.S. team for the 2015 world championships in Kazan Russia. He also agreed to forfeit a $1,750 USA Swimming stipend for six months.

Phelps’ arrest came amid the controversies that have enveloped the NFL and stirred headlines since the video surfaced — on Sept. 8 — of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in a casino elevator. You can be sure that played a part in the decision-making at USA Swimming.

The hammer came the day after Phelps announced he was headed to a six-week, in-patient treatment program.

Even if you decide that this arrest warrants sanction — that’s an entire column in and of itself — what was the goal here?

To penalize Phelps? Deter him or others? Rehabilitate him? Make sure he doesn’t drive drunk again? Send a message — to him, others on the national team or other swimmers in clubs across the United States?

Why was it so important to suspend Phelps when not even a week had passed?

Did acting so quickly make it more — or less — likely to achieve the objective? Which, again, was what?

Isn’t it more likely that we were all left with one obvious reality? That USA Swimming acted get itself out of the spotlight -- or, more precisely, to cover its backside amid media pressure?

So, now what?

Did anyone watch Ryan Lochte’s reality TV show? In the realm of possibility: were there off-camera escapades that might now bring embarrassment to USA Swimming? Do you think TMZ is asleep at that switch? Really?

Further, are we all willing to believe there isn’t even one coach affiliated with USA Swimming, or one athlete anywhere in the United States with a DUI that has yet to come to light? Truly? How soon before one such case emerges? Would any such case bring embarrassment to the federation? How much embarrassment?

You see how problematic this is?

What about this: reasonable people can agree to disagree about whether USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus should or should not have drawn so much criticism earlier this year when he was nominated for the International Swimming Hall of Fame amid concern the federation should have done more to prevent sexual abuse by coaches.

In June, Wielgus formally apologized — four years after saying on national TV that he had nothing to apologize for.

Phelps apologized, too, and in short order after arrest.

These two scenarios admittedly are in many ways apples and oranges. However, the question is nonetheless worth posing, especially if you're asking forthright questions: big-picture, which of the two holds the greater potential to embarrass USA Swimming -- Phelps' situation, or Wielgus'?

The federation, it must be acknowledged, has taken undeniably constructive steps in reordering its safe sport policies. At the same time, right or not, fair or not, Wielgus found himself this summer in an uncomfortable spot.

So why is Phelps getting six months plus the Worlds?

The problem is there is no spelled-out policy here. A catch-all is not good enough.

Another problem: there is inconsistency in the broader U.S. Olympic sphere.


Rule 4 of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn.’s code says: “USSA members shall maintain high standards of moral and ethical conduct, which includes self-control and responsible behavior, consideration for the physical and emotional well-being of others, and courtesy and good manners.”

In 2010, when then-USSA chief Bill Marolt was arrested for DUI — he took responsibility and apologized, just like Phelps — was he suspended? Hardly.

More current: Hope Solo, U.S. Soccer’s goaltender, is facing two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence linked to a June incident at Solo’s sister’s home in Kirkland, Washington.

In a September 23 Facebook post, Solo declared: “… I continue to maintain my innocence against these charges. And, once all the facts come to light and the legal process is concluded, I am confident that I will be fully exonerated.”

Not only has U.S. Soccer not suspended Solo, she has continued to play and, indeed, has once been honored with the captain’s armband.

USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun last month told USA Today, “Abuse in all forms is unacceptable. The allegations involving Ms. Solo are disturbing and are inconsistent with our expectations of Olympians. We have had discussions with U.S. Soccer and fully expect them to take action if it is determined that the allegations are true.”

Three things:

The reason U.S. Soccer hasn’t moved is because you can bet there would be a counter-move rooted in the 1978 Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act.

Solo’s case is yet to be decided in the courts. Yet USA Swimming took action even though Phelps’ matter is only at the arrest stage. He, just like Solo, is due the presumption of innocence.

Finally, this suspension was pushed through when Phelps was on his way to treatment. The skeptic might say Phelps is going to treatment in a bid to prove to the courts that he’s being proactive. Or maybe he is, genuinely, recognizing that, at 29, he needs help, and now is the time to get it.

The difference between the Solo and Phelps cases is that Phelps accepted the suspension. Query: on his way to six weeks away, did he really have any choice? Was he really going to fight that fight? Right then and there?

Now that it’s all said and done, maybe everyone ought to take a deep breath.


At the least, USA Swimming has gone one step too far with Phelps.

On the one hand, six months is arguably thoroughly arbitrary. For legal purposes, the first DUI is absolutely, totally irrelevant. (To show you further how arbitrary: what if Phelps were photographed now with his face in a bong pipe in Colorado, where -- along with Washington state -- pot is legal? Colorado, of all places, home of USA Swimming and the USOC. Things evolve.)

On the other, you can make a pretty strong argument for six months. Let’s be plain: there’s no excusing drunk driving and Phelps is profoundly lucky no one got hurt, or worse. Phelps’ blood-alcohol level was, again, 0.14, and that was not in the field — that was after he had been taken to the police station. He likely had to have been doing some serious drinking. A 200-pound male, about what Phelps weighs, would had to have had 12 drinks to blow a 0.152 after four hours of drinking, according to this chart.

Assuming there’s no wiggle room with the six months, the crux of what really ought to be at issue is the Worlds. Why beat Phelps up over the Worlds? It’s not at all clear that, after six weeks away from the pool, he would even be ready. But it’s just as easy to make the argument that he would be an asset post-treatment to the American team as not — after all, he was a veteran leader in London two years ago, and has increasingly related to younger swimmers.

Here’s one proposal:

After Phelps is done with his six-week, in-patient treatment program, and his court date is through, assuming a conviction but no custody time, he might consider moving to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He could eat, sleep, train and focus on nothing but himself and swimming — under the watch of USA Swimming and the USOC and, perhaps most important, the longtime "mom" at the training center, an old friend, Sherry Von Riesen.

If he proved himself a model citizen, then the ban on the Worlds could be rescinded.

Phelps has had only one coach, Bob Bowman. Bowman is in Baltimore. There would have to be some workarounds. Bowman could perhaps come to Colorado every couple weeks. There could be Skype sessions.

All this — Phelps as resident at the USOC training center, with no driving privileges for some period of time — could even be part of a court-ordered probationary term. Creative minds, you know, and all that.

Of course, this all assumes Phelps wants to keep swimming competitively. That is a big if. Post-treatment, who knows?


USA Swimming should strongly consider re-framing its policy for what is “detrimental to the image or reputation” of the federation. That is way, way, way too vague, and likely susceptible to serious legal challenge.

The other NGBs should take a look at what's going down here, too.

Arbitrary policy-making done in a rush is not constructive strategy. It may get you out of a jam. Or make it feel like you’re out. But not really. Life is way too complex. There’s always another turn, and it’s always unexpected.


U.S. alpine: five is plenty fine

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — There were a couple hours Saturday evening when it seemed possible the U.S. alpine ski team — already with a performance here at the Sochi 2014 Olympics that history will judge as fine, indeed— might, just might, sneak away with what would amount to a bonus medal. After Run 1 of the men’s slalom, Ted Ligety, winner three days ago of the giant slalom, had put himself in position for a medal. He was only 11-hundredths back of third.

The U.S. alpine team went into Saturday night with five medals, tied for its second-best performance ever at a Winter Games, with the Sarajevo 1984 team. Only the Vancouver 2010 team, which racked up eight, had done better.

Ted Ligety, left, and Germany's Felix Neureuther after crashing out in Run 2 of the slalom // photo Getty Images

Tantalizingly, six suddenly seemed within reach. Because he already had the GS gold, Ligety was skiing the slalom with no expectation, no pressure. The buzz started building — remember those two killer slalom runs Ligety put down to win his first Olympic gold, the combined, in Torino in 2006?

And then came the buzzkill.

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Shiffrin's 'sure as heck' gold

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The first Olympics he went to, in his very first race, 15-year-old Michael Phelps took fifth place. He got right back in the pool and, soon enough, he set his first world record. In his next Olympic race — which, because of the calendar, had to wait four years — he won gold. In her first Olympic race, the women’s giant slalom here Tuesday, 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin took fifth. She said, “I think this is supposed to happen,” adding, “The next Olympics I go to, I sure as heck am not getting fifth.”

Women's slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin // photo courtesy Tom Kelly and U.S. Ski Team

There are moments, even at the Olympics, that are genuinely special. These moments make memories that last through the years. They also make cross-over stars, the ones who can make it big outside the confines of a niche like alpine skiing.

Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t have to wait four full years. She sure as heck gave it the full Friday Night Lights treatment here at Rosa Khutor, throwing down two incredible — and very different — runs to win gold in the women’s slalom.

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The contradictory essence of Bode

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It has been 12 years since Bode Miller won his first Olympic medals, in Salt Lake City. He is 36 now and these are surely his last Olympic Games.  He is at once one of the most accomplished and one of the most complex figures ever to make his way across the American and international sports landscape.

Bode Miller and his wife Morgan leave the course after the men's giant slalom, his last race at the 2014 Sochi Games // photo Getty Images

No question he is the best ski racer the United States has ever produced. He has six Olympic medals, including a bronze in the super-G here. He has two overall World Cup titles, 33 World Cup wins, 78 World Cup podium finishes. He is is also one of only five skiers to win World Cup races in five disciplines.

As Miller has often maintained, he doesn’t ski for the medals.

And it is here that the contradictions of Bode Miller clash, often visibly, sometimes — as in Torino in 2006, when he wasn’t feeling it — to his great detriment. This can be no surprise. Great artists come layered with rippled currents of contradiction that play out to powerful effect and in different directions.

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Ted Ligety's 'awesome' GS gold

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — A couple years ago, they made a rules change in the giant slalom. Citing the interest of athlete safety, they made the skiers change to longer, straighter skis. Those skis are way harder to turn. Ted Ligety, the American who had ruled the giant slalom, complained bitterly.

And then he figured out a way to ski on those new skis, lower and longer in the turns, that further separated himself from everyone else in the world. He could now win races by astonishing margins.

Ted Ligety in victory after the giant slalom // photo Getty Images

At Wednesday’s men’s super-G at Rosa Khutor, Ted Ligety put on a clinic to win the first American alpine skiing gold of these Olympics. Indeed, he won big. It was one of the great moments of the 2014 Games. Here, for the entire world to bear witness, was sheer excellence — the excellence the sport demands as well as the excellence the man demands of himself.

It was, in a word, awesome.

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Bill Marolt pivots to Tiger Shaw

When Bill Marolt took over 17 years ago as president and chief executive officer of what is now called the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., he proclaimed its goal was to be the "best in the world." For sure, the United States had produced great skiers: Andrea Mead-Lawrence, Billy Kidd, the Mahre brothers, generations of the Cochran family, Bill Johnson, Tommy Moe, Picabo Street, the cross-country racer Billy Koch. Absolutely, unequivocally, the American union was blessed with mountains east and west, even north in Alaska.

When Marolt took over, however, his goal was audacious. The U.S. Ski Team had enjoyed limited international success for about a decade. Its cash situation was, to be gentle, precarious. "Best in the world"? Little wonder the Europeans -- who dominated the winter scene -- might have laughed. Heartily.

With Wednesday's announcement that Tiger Shaw is due to take over for Marolt after next February's Sochi Games, the time is now to give credit where credit is due.

US Ski Team Speed Center Grand Opening

The United States is now a Winter Games powerhouse. Why? Because of the U.S. Ski Team.

At the Vancouver 2010 Games, the U.S. team won the medals count, with 37. Again -- why? Because the U.S. Ski team won 21.

A little comparison, for those who might yet be stuck in the past, or can't -- or don't want to -- get past their feather boas:

It is absolutely true that in Vancouver Evan Lysacek won gold in men's figure skating. But in the ladies' individual skating competition, no American won a medal of any color. That marked the first time there was no medal in women's singles since 1964, underscoring -- despite the massive hype and drama television loves to play up -- the weakness in the U.S. skating program.

That has not changed. At the 2013 worlds, U.S. women managed to finish fifth and sixth.

Reality, geography, politics and power check:

The 2014 Games are, of course, in Russia, where Vladimir Putin is president. The costs for those Games are already north of $50 billion. Mr. Putin did not oversee the spending of that much money not to win important medals. In Russia, figure skating is important (recall the judging controversy at the 2002 Games). Outside of South Korea's Yuna Kim, who is ethereal, who thinks the Russians aren't going to run away with the figure-skating medals?

The corollary? That leaves the real action in Sochi in the mountains.

Which leads back to the U.S. Ski Team, which has been planning for Sochi since even before Vancouver.

For instance, in 2014 because of new events added in 2011 by the International Olympic Committee, there will be 48 medal opportunities in snowboarding and freeskiing, up from 24 in 2010.

In these so-called "action sport" events, U.S. athletes have been at or near the top of the world rankings over the past seasons.

Meanwhile, in alpine skiing, Ted Ligety won three golds at last year's world championships. And Bode Miller is only the greatest all-around male skier the United States has ever produced.

The U.S. women, to echo the slogan, are the world's best:  Mikaela Shiffrin, just 18, is the No. 1 slalom skier anywhere, Julia Mancuso one of the top big-event racers ever. Lindsey Vonn, the most successful female ski racer in American history, a four-time World Cup overall champion and the 2010 Vancouver downhill gold medalist, now has something to prove; she is making an ahead-of-schedule recovery from last February's knee injury, cleared for on-snow training and heading Friday for Chile, the ski team's other big announcement Wednesday. Vonn's original target to be back on skis: November.

In cross-country, Kikkan Randall and Jesse Diggins and, for that matter, the entire women's relay team are for-real contenders to win the first Olympic medals for the U.S. in the discipline since Koch in the 1970s. On the men's side, Andy Newell is in the hunt, too.

The Nordic combined team proved the breakout stars of the Vancouver Games. Billy Demong and Todd Lodwick figure to be back. And the Fletcher brothers, Taylor and Bryan, are killer fast on skis. Any sort of jumping and the skiing will take care of itself -- which the rest of the world knows full well.

Sarah Hendrickson won last year's women's ski jumping world championships -- though she suffered an injury to her right knee in a training jump last week in Europe.

Back to snowboarding: the U.S. roster is so good and so deep that Shaun White, the two-time halfpipe gold medalist, is going to have to compete, and hard, to defend his title.

These are just some of the faces and names that will be on TV come February.

As complicated as Bill Marolt's job is, it's also thoroughly elemental. It's USSA's job to put these athletes in position come next February to deliver peak performance.

The record shows that few, if any, sports organizations have been run as well as the U.S. Ski Team since 1996.

Indeed, few organizations anywhere are now run with the vision -- and the winning culture -- of the ski team.

Since 2009, USSA has been headquartered at the Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah, where staff, trainers, coaches and athletes across all the disciplines mingle in a building that is part office and part state-of-the-art training center -- the better to exchange stories, ideas, laughs, whatever. This is how a common culture is not only built but nurtured.

This fall will mark the third season of the Copper Mountain Speed Center in Colorado -- where racers can, early-season, train full-on downhill, with speeds of 80 mph and jumps of 50 to 70 meters.

For 16 of the last 17 years, USSA has recorded a balanced budget.

It has an endowment that now measures $60 million.

All of this is, in large measure, thanks to the leadership of Bill Marolt.

"I think if I've done one thing," Marolt said, "I brought focus and a sense of direction that ultimately everybody bought into. And out of that focus and direction, you can create that culture of excellence. Then -- you can create a lot.

"More than anything, I brought the sense of focus."


That is what Shaw inherits. This is his challenge and his opportunity.

An alpine skier himself who raced in the 1984 Sarajevo -- under then-men's coach Bill Marolt -- and 1988 Calgary Games, where he finished 12th in the giant slalom and 18th in the super-G, Shaw has since gone on to make himself into a successful businessman.

Shaw recently served as a senior director at Global Rescue LLC, responsible for business development and new markets. Before that he was director of inventory strategy at Dealertrack, overseeing a wide range of automotive retail sales issues.

Marolt will turn 70 in September. Shaw turned 52 last Saturday.

It's one more mark of Marolt's professionalism that there was a process to recruit, identity and put in place his successor. Shaw will become chief operating officer Oct. 1, then move into the top job next spring.

"I'm going to be involved right away in whatever Bill wants as he tutors me," Shaw said in a telephone interview, adding about Sochi and referring again to Marolt, "It's his show. The Olympics are his show. He built the institution to get the athletes to the podium, all that infrastructure.

"What I hope I learn in the time I spend under him is what has made him so successful. The primary goal of mine is to keep us No. 1 in the world, whatever it takes. What he is doing works. We want to emulate that, replicate that and -- improve on it."


Musing on IOC membership: next, please?

The U.S. Olympic Committee's press release Thursday out of Redwood City, Calif., and the board of directors meeting there, started out with the news that Larry Probst had been confirmed for a second four-year term as board chairman. It immediately switched -- same paragraph -- to note that Bill Marolt, president and chief executive since 1996 of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., and Whitney Ping, a 2004 Athens Games table tennis athlete, had been added as new directors. The entirety of that same first paragraph was devoted not to Probst but to Marolt and Ping and who they were replacing on the board.

So typically understated.

To be clear, there is nothing -- nothing at all -- wrong with being so low-key. Indeed, there is a lot right, and it explains a lot of the USOC's success under Probst's direction. He gets things done. People in the Olympic movement have come to trust him. The USOC is taken seriously. And he isn't the sort of person who needs a lot of attention, or public validation, for any or all of it.

The issue now: when does Probst become a member of the International Olympic Committee?

Mind you, Probst is not -- repeat, not -- lobbying for IOC membership. But it only makes sense, and not only for the USOC. It makes sense for the IOC, and for the Olympic movement worldwide.

To be clear once more, there are always any number of candidates for IOC membership. But, as things stand now, two are not only incredibly obvious and deserving but would actually bring a demonstrated business and political track record as well as proven leadership skills -- Probst and South Korea's Yang Ho Cho, who directed the winning Pyeongchang 2018 bid.

The tricky part would seem to be how to get this done.

And when.

The way the system is now set up, both would seem to be eligible to come in through the national Olympic committee door -- Probst as the chairman of the USOC, Cho as a vice-president of the Korean Olympic Committee.

There are, of course, two IOC sessions -- as the IOC conventions are called -- within the next 14 months, the first in Buenos Aires in September, 2013, the next in Sochi, in connection with the Winter Games, in February, 2014.

It's not entirely clear, given the way these things shift, how many NOC openings there might be. But the thinking in some circles is that initially there might only be one.

If that's the case, who is more deserving? The chairman and chief executive of Korean Air? Or the chairman of Electronic Arts?

Or is that in any way a fair way to frame the issue?

Can the IOC finesse the matter to make one or the other a member in his individual right? Or somehow?

In Cho's case, Pyeongchang ran away with perhaps the most impressive bid victory ever -- winning in the first round in July, 2011, with 63 votes over Munich, with 25, and Annecy, France, with seven. Those 63 votes were the most-ever in an IOC first-round ballot; Salt Lake City took 54 in winning for 2002.

Cho came to the 2018 campaign -- the third in a row for Pyeongchang -- after others, led by formidable personalities such as Jin Sun Kim, governor of the province in which Pyeongchang is located, had not quite pushed the bid past the finish line. Pyeongchang lost for 2014 by four votes, for 2010 by three.

The 2018 campaign proved a high-wire balancing act. Out front, all seemed seamless. Behind the scenes, Cho had to balance a multiplicity of interests: government (national, regional and local), business (Samsung and others), the KOC, all the while taking the dramatic step of moving the bid toward its "new horizons" theme in first-rate English, hardly the preferred language of many of those he was directing.

Kim is now the Pyeongchang 2018 organizing committee chairman. Cho is back at Korean Air.

Intriguingly, like Probst, Cho is not much of a publicity-seeker. He, too, just gets stuff done.

Probst, after a rocky start as USOC chairman that saw Chicago's 2016 bid booted in first-round IOC voting in October, 2009, has since been nothing short of -- at the risk of losing one's journalistic skeptic card -- sensational.

The way he has done it has been entirely, thoroughly appropriate but at the same time fascinating: he has ceded day-to-day control to the chief executive he hired, Scott Blackmun.

That has led, genuinely, to trust and teamwork.

The results:

On the field of play, the U.S. team won the medals count at both Vancouver 2010 and London 2012.

Behind the scenes, the USOC and NBC repaired a relationship that by the time of the Chicago vote in 2009 had shown some signs of fraying; in 2011, NBC agreed to pay $4.38 billion for the rights to the 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 Games.

Most important, perhaps, the USOC and IOC this year finalized a new revenue-sharing deal.

Blackmun and Probst have made international relationship-building a priority, perhaps with an eye toward a bid for the Games, probably in 2024 for the Summer Games; it was said Thursday that the call will go out in the first few weeks of 2013 to cities interested in bidding.

Under Probst and Blackmun, the USOC has genuinely put into practice the unique duality that is its reality.

Because of its resource, history and geography, it is at once a stand-out Olympic committee among the 204 on Planet Earth. At the same time, it is simply one among 204 -- a humble member of the so-called "Olympic family," a point Probst and Blackmun stress repeatedly, and in that spirit the USOC played host in 2012 to an IOC "women and sport" conference in Los Angeles, an IOC athlete jobs conference in Lake Placid, N.Y., and a Pan American sports meeting in Miami.

Big picture:

It might have been better for his own personal life if Probst had not gotten that second term. But, like Cho, Probst gets it. He understands the power of the Olympic movement to effect change in people's lives, especially young people.

And the USOC rules are such now that, absent something dramatic or untoward, you'd expect a third. That kind of continuity would be a good thing, indeed.

Even better if he -- and Cho -- both -- were IOC members.

Aiming now for Sochi 2014

LONDON -- It's a week before the Summer Games, and of course for most Americans the focus is appropriately and properly on the runners, the swimmers, the wrestlers and all the others on the 530-person U.S. team who have worked so hard for four years to get here. But in just a little bit over 18 short months, which for most of us seems so difficult to fathom in the midst of the summer of 2012, the Olympic calendar will rush toward February 2014, and the Sochi Winter Games.

And a little-noticed announcement Friday in Salt Lake City may make all the difference in the way the U.S. team performs in those 2014 Games -- along with the vision and the strategy of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., underway now, even as these Summer Games occupy everyone else's attention.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, along with USSA chief executive Bill Marolt, announced that the state will play host to five winter action sports events, including the announcement of the first U.S. freeskiing Olympic team, leading up to the 2014 Games.

Utah's Canyons Resorts, Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort will stage events in freestyle skiing, freeskiing and snowboarding during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. The series will end up with the announcement of the Olympic freeskiing team in January, 2014.

So what?

Here's what's at play -- a massive shift in the way medals will be given out at the Winter Games.

The U.S. ski program, anticipating that, is shifting the way it's doing business.

It's not abandoning alpine. Hardly. Not with the likes of Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety and Bode Miller, and young stars such as Mikaela Shiffrin.

But when confronting obvious numbers, you've got to be obvious in response:

Forty percent of USSA's medals have been won by snowboarding since it became a medal sport in 1998.

In 2006, for instance, snowboarding accounted for seven of the 10 medals USSA won at the Torino Olympics.

In 2010, if you include ski cross as a freeskiing event … plus bordercross … plus halfpipe snowboarding … plus parallel giant slalom … the count reached 24 medal opportunities.

In 2014, because of new events added last year by the International Olympic Committee in snowboarding and freeskiing, there will be 48 medal opportunities.

That's for men and women -- 24 and 24, a total of 48.

Again, to be completely obvious, these are sports in which American athletes rock. Or, to use the words of Jeremy Forster, the U.S. program's snowboard and freeskiing director, "It's a pretty special time."

Tom Wallisch, who won the Dew Tour overall cup and finished first in the AFP slopestyle World Rankings in 2010 and 2012, said, "All these action sports-style events are ruled by Americans. They are all ours for the taking."

Wallisch turns 25 soon and was named the ESPN Action Sport Athlete of the Year. Even so, he said, "The kids I hang out with these days are 17," adding, "I would almost put a lot of money on the fact that some American will win my event. There are so many competitive American kids."

Jen Hudak, also 25, was the queen of halfpipe skiing two years ago -- sweeping the X Games super pipe in both Aspen and Tignes, France, and topping the overall AFP series rankings, the freeskiing equivalent of a World Cup globe.

Early this year, she suffered a torn ACL. Now she's back at it -- aiming, like everyone else on the U.S. Ski Team, toward Sochi. Already.

She said, "It wasn't like we were working toward nothing." Even when halfpipe skiing wasn't on the Olympic program, "We were planning for these Olympics, in a sense."

And now it's really on: "I saw the whole thing coming together, eventually. I believed in it. It's all coming together. The fact that Sochi is 18 months away is nerve-wracking, exciting and shocking -- all at the same time."

The need for speed

The U.S. Ski Team's speed-training venue, which opens Tuesday at Copper Mountain, Colo., is a one-of-a-kind in the world and underscores the big-picture thinking that has driven the American program's relentless drive to become, truly, best in the world. Once, the Europeans snickered at the notion that the American team could be the best.

No longer -- not with the likes of Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso leading the way.

All, of course, are first-rate athletes.

"I get the kicks out of this job when I see our athletes do well," said Bill Marolt, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn since 1996. "That's what motivates me."

Marolt is a first-rate executive. He, and his vision, are a big reason why the U.S. Ski Team -- in all its iterations, alpine, freestyle, cross-country, Nordic combined, snowboard -- have been good at doing something that eludes so many others: developing success.

That's why the opening of the Copper Mountain Speed Center is such a jolt.

It's in keeping with other big Marolt ideas.

Like -- the Center of Excellence, the USSA's three-story, 85,000-square foot headquarters building, which opened in 2009 just east of Park City, Utah. It features state-of-the-art training and sports science facilities.

Like -- the agreement the alpine team announced last month that names the Austrian resorts of Soelden and Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, about an hour from Innsbruck, a U.S. Ski Team partner. The three-year deal names the resort the official European training base for the U.S. men's alpine team through 2014.

That is a big deal psychologically. The Americans are basically setting up camp, and in Austria no less -- where alpine skiing rules in the winter.

Even without all of that, it's a huge gain logistically. Instead of flying back to the States for training or R&R, the idea is -- just pop over to Soelden.

"This is my 12th year on the team," said downhill specialist Marco Sullivan. Because of the Soelden option, "This is the first year I'm going to stay in Europe the entire winter."

Marolt said, "We have really worked hard in vesting in and improving what I'm calling infrastructure. Soelden represents part of that. And Copper Mountain becomes part of what becomes the real foundation for this organization, both in the short and in the long term, for our elite athletes now and our developmental athletes down the road."

The Copper Mountain facility addresses the early-season need for speed. It's a 1.7-mile run and fully netted for safety reasons, just like a World Cup run. Starting next year, it's due to be open Nov. 1.

The U.S. team typically spends summers training in Chile and New Zealand. If snow conditions in those locales are good, then Copper Mountain "becomes frosting on the cake," Marolt said. If the summer season isn't so good, then Copper offers the U.S. team "unbelievable training and world-class snow," with 87 new automatic snowmakers.

A project like this takes time (all in, about 10 years) and money ($4.5 million, all privately raised, money that won't affect USSA's annual budget). Marolt said. "This is a facility that at the end of the day -- it's a game-changer."

Leanne Smith, in her fifth year on the U.S. team, said, "As racers, you want to get great at your craft. It's lap after lap after lap. This new hill is awesome.

"I'm looking out my window at it right now. We are extremely fortunate to have it. You know," she said, "no one else in the world has it."

Jumping for joy, finally

LONDON -- Sometimes long, hard fights take a long, long time. And when you win, it's that much sweeter.

That's how it was Wednesday for advocates of women's ski jumping. For years, they tried to get into the Winter Olympic Games. For years, they met mostly with resistance and heartache and frustration.

On Wednesday they knew elation.

The International Olympic Committee's policy-making executive board approved women's ski jumping, along with four other new events, for the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014.

""I’ve dedicated my life, hopes and dreams to ski jumping and I’m thrilled that our sport will be showcased at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi," American Lindsey Van, the 26-year-old 2009 world champion, said. "We are ready.

"For our sport this means a huge step in the right direction. Women's ski jumping has been developing a lot over the past 10 years, but the Olympics is what our sport really needed to take the next step."

Coline Mattel of France, a 2011 world championships bronze medalist, said, "The fact that women's ski jumping has finally been recognized rewards all the girls that have been fighting for such a long time, and gives me the motivation to work even harder."

The other four events also added to the Sochi program: ski halfpipe, biathlon mixed relay and team events in luge and figure skating. The figure skating event is not, IOC sports director Christophe Dubi hastened to add, a synchronized swimming-style event; one skater will follow the other on the ice.

IOC President Jacques Rogge called the additions "exciting, entertaining events that perfectly complement the existing events on the sports program, bring added appeal and increase the number of women participating at the Games.''

Bill Marolt, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., said, "This is a special day. The IOC's decision to include women's ski jumping and halfpipe skiing marks a truly progressive era in the Olympic sports movement.

"Today is the beginning of a chapter in the history books that will showcase these great athletes' talent and dedication on the world's stage in 2014 and beyond."

The IOC put off for a couple of months consideration of proposals for inclusion of slopestyle events in snowboard and freestyle skiing and in team alpine skiing.

The lengthy process by which women's ski jumping finally made the program shows in revealing detail how the IOC truly moves.

For one, the IOC absolutely, positively refuses to move until it is ready to do so.

Moreover, it does not like being told by outsiders what it should be doing, or that it should be moving for reasons of political correctness, or being compelled to move by the threat of legal action.

None of those things typically occasion the desired response -- not even the whole court case thing.

In 2006 the IOC turned down a women's ski jumping event for the 2010 Vancouver Games. The jumpers took their case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, but lost, the court saying it wasn't its place to tell the IOC what to do -- which was what the IOC knew all along was what would happen.

The IOC was never against women ski jumpers. Just the opposite. It's in the IOC's interest to have more women at the Games -- as Rogge observed in welcoming the women jumpers.

After all, ski jumping -- and, now, Nordic combined -- were the only disciplines in the Winter Games that did not allow women to take part. No matter what anyone might think, that's not what the IOC is about anymore.

All along, the IOC wasn't simply being patronizing or paternalistic. After all, Joan Benoit ran that marathon in Los Angeles a long, long time ago.

The IOC kept saying to the jumpers --  show us that there are more of you, from more countries, and that you're better at this, and we'll let you into the Games and we'll do it with big smiles all around.

In 2006, according a release put out Wednesday by the advocacy group Women's Ski Jumping USA, 83 women from 14 nations were registered to compete on the FIS Continental Cup. In 2010: 182 from 18 nations.

In 2009, according to that same release, 36 jumpers -- from 13 nations -- took part in the world championships, held in Liberec, Czech Republic.

This year's world championships were held in Oslo, before a crowd of some 10,000 people, and in super-crummy weather that tested fan and athlete alike. There were 43 jumpers from 15 countries; five of the six top finishers were from different countries and ranged in age from 14 to 27.

"You have much more quality and depth," Dubi said. "If you compare to Liberec back in 2009, you had a handful of top jumpers. Now you have 30 jumpers who would jump between 80 and 97 meters."

Dubi was asked point-blank if the IOC needed to see something big like that in Oslo for the jumpers to make it. Yes, he said: "It was really critical. And what we've seen there is extremely positive."

As for Nordic combined? "Well, obviously, for Nordic combined there is not yet the universality and the numbers to consider it [for women] an Olympic sport," Rogge said at a Wednesday evening news conference.

He added a moment later that if time shows better quality and quantity in participation in women's Nordic combined events -- then the IOC will bring it on board, too.

He said, "You need the numbers … you  need more competition, you need more international participation and hopefully I would say the example of women's ski jumping will serve as a catalyst for that sport, too."

The athletes themselves, finally, had reason Wednesday to jump for joy. Here was another American, Alissa Johnson: "This inspires me to continue training hard to be the absolute best athlete that I can be, so that when I have my chance at the Games I can finally fight for the gold medal I have been dreaming of since I was five."