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Volume 25 No. 216
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Hirshland Claims Decision To Decertify USA Gymnastics Inevitable

USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said the systemic issues surrounding USA Gymnastics made the decision to decertify the NGB essentially inevitable, even as the step was not taken lightly and was not just a failure of senior leadership. Hirshland said at the '18 Learfield Intercollegiate Athletic Forum, “I came to the conclusion that was not an organization that could sustain itself or that it was showing that it was going be able to rebuild itself quickly. My estimation was that this was our only option. We know that gymnastics needs to be rebuilt. ... And the sooner we get to the rebuilding, the better for the athletes. And that was really the impetus for us to say we don’t have the luxury of waiting to determine what’s going to happen over time. We need progress and we need to see it happen quickly.” Hirshland's comments came approximately an hour after USAG filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

KEEPING THE FOCUS ON ATHLETES: The USAG decision was part of Hirshland’s ongoing efforts to make the USOC a more athlete-centric organization, a perspective she argued might have ebbed somewhat under prior leadership. “It became clear to me through the interview process that the organization had an opportunity to what I would call dust off its focus on the athlete,” she said. “I don’t think the organization ever lost focus on the athlete. But maybe it had gotten a little dusty. So my pitch to the search committee and my vision was that we need to go back to our roots and put the athlete at the center of everything we do.” Amid the ongoing drama surrounding USAG, Hirshland still predicted strong results for both the men’s and women’s teams in the upcoming '20 Tokyo Games. “We are incredibly optimistic about both the men’s and women’s teams. But our job is that while we are sorting through all of this, we limit the disruption and distraction to them while they are training for Tokyo,” she said.

QUICK HITS:

  • Asked to describe her first four months on the job, Hirshland said, “Incredibly busy. I think I’ve met a thousand people and I don’t think I’m exaggerating.”
  • On how she envisions the USOC being able to move forward after its recent issues: “The most difficult thing to do in a time of crisis is be comfortable learning. To be comfortable saying that maybe we don’t have this all the way right. When you are under attack, your natural reaction as a human being and an organization is put up a wall. The challenge for us is that we have to break down that wall.”
  • On her relationship with NCAA President Mark Emmert: “I had breakfast with him this week. We had a great conversation and came away with a strong commitment to work together.”
  • On the power of the Olympic movement: “What has been staggering to me is understanding this is as much about patriotism and pride for country as much as it is about sport.”
  • On the future of esports within the Olympics: “It’s continuing to be talked about extensively. ... It’s a very real discussion that’s happening.”
  • On the U.S. playing host to the '26 Games: “I would like to believe that if the IOC really doesn’t have a viable candidate for 2026 they would come to us and ask us to step to the plate.” But she added “that is not the plan” from her understanding and still pointed to ongoing bids from Sweden and Italy.