WSJ Looks At Organizational, Performance Challenges Facing U.S. Track & Field
Once the “dominant arm of the U.S. Olympic team, track and field has looked more like a faded dynasty,” according to a front-page piece by Germano, Carreyrou & Cacciola of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The years of "falling medal counts” since the ‘88 Seoul Games have “yielded to swimming the title of America's highest-achieving Olympic sport.” If USATF “were a corporation, shareholders would be up in arms,” as the organization has “faced falling performance, boardroom squabbles and tensions over diversity.” Since ‘08, five CEOs and acting chiefs “have tried to straighten the course.” New CEO Max Siegel in April predicted the U.S. "would win 30 of the 141 medals" available in London, up from 23 won in the '08 Beijing Games. However, he said last week, "If we don't make 30 medals, it's certainly not going to be a failure for the team."
RACE ISSUES: Germano, Carreyrou & Cacciola outline some of the challenges facing the USATF over the years. Current and former board members note that “underlying some conflicts have been race issues tied to some events within the sport.” Some African-American athletes over the years “expressed resentment” that the organization “was run by white board members and executives.” Those complaints “diminished with the selection” of two African-Americans -- Stephanie Hightower as president in late ‘08 and Siegel as CEO in May. Hightower said that race issues "moved in both directions and masked simmering conflicts over money.” The USOC “generally earmarks more of its track-and-field contributions for sprinting and other longtime medal-winning events.” This year “it refused to allow any of its so-called high performance contributions to go to long-distance racewalkers, who are nearly all white athletes” and last won a medal at the ‘72 Munich Games. Hightower said that “many racewalkers felt discriminated against.” USOC Chief Communications Officer Patrick Sandusky “acknowledged the concerns of years past but said that the committee is ‘focused on ensuring our athletes are able to perform at their best here in London.’”
MOVING FORWARD: Siegel during his tenure with USATF has "so far shown a sharp change from the aggressive leadership style of his predecessor,” Doug Logan. Colleagues in the organization “say he better communicates with the board, as well as with athletes and their agents.” Hightower said that she "hopes track and field's worst days are behind.” Hightower: "There were a lot of people who got frustrated and walked away [after the Beijing Games]. …This is a different organization now. Come back and work with us” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/4).