AP Interview: USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun pleased with medals, IOC talks

By Stephen Wilson, AP
Friday, February 26, 2010

AP Interview: USOC leader savors medal success

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — With American athletes assured of a record medal tally and U.S. Olympic officials nearing a potential financial breakthrough with the IOC, no one is feeling much better right now than Scott Blackmun.

Blackmun, the new CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, has been savoring the medal success of American athletes at the Vancouver Games and working behind the scenes to improve relations with the International Olympic Committee.

“It’s hard to imagine that we could have done better. On and off the field, it’s been a great two weeks for the United States,” Blackmun said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Heading into the final weekend of competition, the United States led the overall medals count with 34 and was guaranteed at least two more in men’s hockey and men’s team pursuit in speedskating, surpassing its all-time Winter Games record of 34 medals set on home soil in Salt Lake City in 2002.

The Americans picked up two more medals Friday night in short track speedskating, with Katherine Reutter getting the silver in the women’s 1,000 meters and the men taking the bronze in the 5,000-meter relay. They came close to the record 35th medal when Apolo Anton Ohno crossed the line second in the men’s 500 but was disqualified for knocking another skater into the boards.

The U.S. also is assured of at least tying the record for most overall medals at a single Winter Games — Germany won 36 in Salt Lake City. The record for most golds is 13, shared by the Soviet Union (1976 Innsbruck) and Norway (Salt Lake).

“If you had told me two weeks ago I could take 32 medals, I would have accepted your offer in a second,” Blackmun said. “We’re very happy to be where we are. We’ve got a number of good opportunities for medals in the next three days.”

The U.S. has eight gold medals — two behind Canada and one behind Germany — and has a chance of finishing on top of the gold and overall tables for the first time at a Winter Games since Lake Placid in 1932.

“Anything’s possible at this point,” said Blackmun, who served as the USOC’s interim CEO in 2000 and returned in the full-time role last month. “Canada is coming on awfully strong in terms of the gold medal count. But this isn’t about America as a country, it’s about American athletes.”

U.S. athletes won 25 medals, including nine gold, at the 2006 Turin Games for their previous best performance on foreign soil. Blackmun and other USOC officials attribute the success over the last three games to sports funding programs put into place ahead of the Salt Lake Games.

For Blackmun and USOC president Larry Probst, these games have been about more than competition and medals. They’ve focused on trying to repair relations with the international Olympic community after the humiliating defeats for New York City and Chicago in their respective bids for the 2012 and 2016 Summer Games.

Blackmun and Probst have been busy meeting with IOC members and national Olympic leaders to show they are serious about cooperating and forging closer ties.

“The piece of advice we hear most frequently is we just need to spend time being present, whether at events, conferences or whatever,” Blackmun said.

Despite the positive feedback so far, he said it is too soon declare a new era in relations.

“We’ve gotten some encouraging indications,” he said. “It takes a long time to build trust, and we’re at the very front end of that process.”

All of which means the U.S. is not ready to jump into a new Olympic bid.

A bid for the 2020 Summer Games is all but ruled out.

“We probably don’t have enough time to put together a bid for those games,” Blackmun said. “In light of what happened with New York City and Chicago, I’m not sure we could find a major U.S. city willing to make the investments of resources necessary to put that bid together.”

A U.S. bid for the 2022 Winter Games is more realistic, but even that is by no means a certainty for the same reasons.

“We have no present intention of working on a bid,” Blackmun said. “That could change, but right now we have no present intention.”

First, the USOC is hoping to resolve some of the thorny financial issues that contributed to the New York and Chicago defeats and a general isolation of the Americans in the international Olympic movement.

Many IOC members and international officials are annoyed the USOC still receives a 20 percent share of global sponsorship revenue and 12.75 percent cut of U.S. broadcast rights deals.

The two sides agreed last year to resolve that revenue-sharing dispute in 2013. But the USOC and IOC already have been holding negotiations in Vancouver on a related issue: how much the USOC should contribute in so-called administrative “games costs” at the Olympics.

It’s possible a deal could be reached by the end of the games on Sunday, which would signal an important first step.

“Nothing concrete so far,” Blackmun said. “We remain in communication with them. Discussions are positive.”

That’s already an achievement. Positive is a word that hasn’t been used for a long time in discussing U.S.-IOC relations.

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