Kate Reisinger

USOC's classy visit to Tokyo

The chairman and chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee flew to Tokyo a couple days ago, where with their counterparts from the Japanese Olympic Committee they signed a mutual cooperation agreement.

Routine stuff in the Olympic scene. Except this wasn't. Judging from the way they were greeted there by the media, with flashbulbs flashing and cameras rolling, you might have thought Larry Probst, the USOC's chairman, and chief executive Scott Blackmun were rock stars.

It just goes to show you what happens when you do the right thing -- when you act with honor, dignity and class.

Probst and Blackmun are believed to be the first senior officials from another national Olympic committee to have visited Tokyo in the aftermath of the March 11 magnitude 9.0-earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan.

To be crystal clear:

This was no grandstanding effort, no deliberate publicity play.

This was a trip that had been many months in the making. Indeed, it had been scheduled for earlier this year and then re-scheduled for April 21-22.

On one level, all the Americans did was honor the commitment they had made to their Japanese friends to show up.

But of course they did.

This is precisely the sort of thing Blackmun and Probst have been saying they would do.

Go back to what Blackmun said the very day he was hired, in January 2010, about the formula for re-establishing the USOC's station within the Olympic world.

He said then, "Internationally, it's just a lot of blocking and tackling. At the end of the day, relationships are a function of time and commitment, and we need to start spending that time and making that commitment and becoming engaged in the movement. The IOC is the leader of that movement and we intend to become a much more regular guest over there.

"It's not something we can fix overnight but it's something," he said, "we can address overnight."

Though Probst and Blackmun often travel as a team, the focus is and has to be, truly, on Probst. As the "president" of the American NOC -- in Olympic jargon -- he is the figure protocol demands must see and be seen. In a typical month, he's on the road  for USOC-related business 10 days, maybe more, out of 30. This month: London, Israel and now Japan.

Of the trip to Tokyo, Probst said, "We didn't do anything heroic or special. We did the right thing. We made a commitment to these guys to come visit and sign a coöperation agreement and we stuck with that commitment. It's as simple as that."

It is, but at the same time it's much, much more.

The follow-up this visit might well ignite could prove powerful, indeed.

"It is our great pleasure to have our friends from the United States with us, and by signing an agreement today, the firm partnership between the two Olympic Committees was confirmed," the president of the Japanese committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, said in a statement released by the USOC.

"I would also like to thank the USOC for their kind and prompt offer of support for the devastated people and damage caused by the tragic events. I look forward to continuing our cooperation as a partner NOC for further development of the Olympic movement in both countries."

Here, then, are some unsolicited ideas for further coöperation:

Perhaps other American athletes might want to do like former U.S. bobsledder Brock Kreitzburg? He plans to spend three months in northern Japan working on recovery efforts.

If enough American athletes, some well-known, some not so much, signed up to spend, say, a month in Japan, it could well be one of the most significant projects the USOC has ever undertaken. Could such a project intrigue the White House? Sponsors, too?

Maybe the IOC would want to get involved?

This doesn't need to be just fanciful thinking. There's real potential here.

On Saturday, before the opening match of a five-game series at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., with the Japanese team, USA Field Hockey presented the visitors with a check for $11,316 -- all of it donations that had been raised for the recovery effort.

"While it's going to be a small amount in the big scheme of things, we hope that our gesture can provide some sort of relief to them," the U.S. national teams director, Kate Reisinger, said in a statement released by the federation.

To switch gears:

If it was understandable that for a whole host of reasons it might have been untenable to stage the world figure skating championships scheduled for late March in Tokyo (they get underway Monday in Moscow), now it seems reasonable to take a breath and assess whether other events due to take place this year in Tokyo ought to go on  as scheduled.

For instance -- the world gymnastics championships are due to be held in Tokyo in the fall.

In this regard, Probst's and Blackmun's trip last week ought to prove instructive. And Probst's extensive experience with Tokyo, and his observation of the scene there, ought to prove particularly relevant.

"I have been to Tokyo probably 30 to 40 times in my business career," Probst, the chairman and former president and CEO of video game giant Electronic Arts, said. "It just seems like normal, safe, comfortable Tokyo."