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E.M. Swift
September 12, 1988
The U.S. Olympic Committee, that bloated bureaucracy, must be restructured if America is to fulfill its athletic potential
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September 12, 1988

An Olympian Quagmire

The U.S. Olympic Committee, that bloated bureaucracy, must be restructured if America is to fulfill its athletic potential

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The locations of America's three Olympic training centers are examples of USOC shortsightedness. In 1978, the USOC moved its offices from New York City to Colorado Springs. Why? Because Colorado Springs offered the organization 36 acres of land and a few old office buildings—a good investment for a city of 280,000, considering the millions of dollars that the USOC has pumped into the local economy since then.

In the ensuing decade the USOC has become more and more entrenched in Colorado Springs. Nineteen NGBs have moved their national headquarters there, with office space provided free of charge by the USOC to all but three. The USOC's sports medicine center is based there. And the largest Olympic training center is in Colorado Springs, despite the fact that the city is 6,000 feel above sea level, an altitude to which visiting athletes must become acclimated. It's also about as far as possible from the population centers of the East and West coasts.

The Olympic training center in Colorado Springs has no swimming pool, no grass playing fields and no winter Olympic facilities, and its long jump runways and pits are buckled and weed-covered from disuse. The center has only one gymnasium, which is often booked months in advance. "Every day of the year we are out in the streets of Colorado Springs, begging to use sports facilities," says Larry McCollum, the director of all three of the USOC's training centers. "I would have thought after 11 years in this complex we'd have come up with another damn gym or a pool."

Marquette, Mich., is the site of a second Olympic training center—a little-used backwater facility shared by Olympic hopefuls and students at Northern Michigan University, which was looking for some way to use its empty dormitories after student enrollment declined. USOC's share of the costs at the Marquette center is only about $50,000 a year, but why not commit that money to a worthy long-range project? Instead, that remote facility is going to be expanded by 1990.

The Winter Olympic training center in Lake Placid is nothing short of pathetic, although the Olympic Regional Development Authority, a New York State organization that manages the Placid property, is finally putting $12 million into building a new dormitory, gymnasium and dining facility there. In return the USOC has committed $1.4 million to rebuilding the luge and bobsled runs, the only such venues in the country, which have deteriorated. The speed skating oval at Lake Placid remains largely unused: most of the elite American speed skaters are from the Midwest and train in Milwaukee or at the indoor oval in Calgary.

The USOC has plans to open a new Olympic training center in San Diego in 1991. The city is providing most of the money for the center, which will provide a warm-weather, sea-level facility for track and field athletes, many of whom already live in Southern California. The San Diego training center might also accommodate canoeists, kayakers and rowers.

Things aren't so bright on the winter sports horizon, however. In a classic example of the USOC's lack of vision, the executive board nominated Anchorage, Alaska, as the host city for the 1994 Winter Games, selecting it over Salt Lake City, Reno/Lake Tahoe and Lake Placid. Why? Politics, say some observers; Alaska's senior senator, Ted Stevens, was the driving force behind passage of the 1978 Amateur Sports Act. If the IOC awards the '94 Games to Anchorage, the finest American winter sports facilities will be built 1,400 miles from the continental U.S.

How should the USOC be structured in the future? In what direction should it head? Some recommendations:

•Take the trends of the past 10 years to their logical extremes and make the USOC simply a clearing house for funds. It has increasingly functioned as a central bank, anyway. Indeed, during the next four years the USOC will scrap its multilayered grant system and begin awarding each NGB a lump sum of money for the quadrennium based on a complicated formula that weighs everything from development needs of the sport to medals won.

"Now they'll be given a chunk of money, and we'll tell them, 'You show us the best way to make progress,' " says the USOC's assistant director of international games preparation, Jim Page. "We'll also act as a central data base. If one sport wants to know what another, more successful sport has been doing in terms of junior development, we'll have that information for them."

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