Embattled USOC Balances Games Abroad, Scandal At Home
The U.S. Olympic Committee begins the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics today with a depleted executive team and a major distraction from the Games in the form of the USA Gymnastics scandal.
Both CEO Scott Blackmun and Chief Public Affairs Officer Patrick Sandusky are absent at an Olympics for the first time since they joined the organization in 2010 and 2009, respectively. They’re staying stateside due to medical reasons, leaving Chairman Larry Probst to handle in-person leadership duties.
“We miss them, of course we miss them,” said Probst, who usually defers to Blackmun as the public face of the committee. “But the USOC has a great staff of people. They pull together and they’re getting the work done and doing very high-quality work.”
Pointing to Chief of Sports Performance Alan Ashley, CMO Lisa Baird and Mark Jones, Sandusky’s top lieutenant in media relations, Probst continued: “I’m sure that we will deliver a great performance while we’re here in Pyeongchang, and these are the people who are responsible for it, and we have the utmost confidence in them.”
But the regular business of the Olympics is far from the main priority at the USOC right now. Probst spent much of an hour-long press conference ahead of the opening ceremony responding to questions about Blackmun’s job status and the USOC’s own culpability in Larry Nassar’s crimes.
Probst said no personnel changes will be made until the USOC-commissioned investigation into the scandal is complete, Probst said. But he defended Blackmun. “With regard to Scott, he has served the USOC with distinction since he rejoined the organization in 2010, and we think he did what he was supposed to do, and did the right thing at every turn.”
Probst also disputed New York Times reporter Juliet Macur’s claim that the USOC is “unscathed” in the gymnastics scandal. “We are far from unscathed,” Probst said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of criticism about the USOC.”
IOC executive board and USOC board member Angela Ruggiero said she hopes Team USA’s athletes can still focus on the Games.
“We’re focused on performance, and so I hope anything that’s going on isn’t a distraction for the athletes and what they’ve come here to do,” Ruggiero said. “And if it is, I’d love to talk to them. I’m sure some of them are monitoring the [Russian] doping situation, and I’m sure they’ve heard about the Nassar scandal. In every Games, not to minimize it, there are distractions and I hope they can focus on sports.”
Both Sandusky and Blackmun participate in the committee’s daily Olympics conference call from their homes in Colorado Springs, Jones said. Probst disclosed that Sandusky had been hospitalized for “multiple months” but is now at home. Previously, the organization had only said Sandusky was recovering from a recent surgery.