US Olympic Committee chief: We have a lot of work to do

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Ten years ago local attorney Scott Blackmun, who had been named interim CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, was passed over for the top job. Blackmun took the setback in stride, and moved on with his life. Meanwhile, the USOC became, in the opinion of many observers, a dsysfunctional mess. After a tumultuous year under interim CEO Stephanie Streeter, the USOC board turned once more to the man whom they had spurned a decade earlier. Blackmun took the helm earlier this year, and has begun to transform the once-secretive and standoffish non-profit into a more engaged and media-friendly organization.

A longtime resident of Colorado Springs, Blackmun graduated from Dartmouth College and Stanford Law. Most recently, he was a partner at Holme, Roberts, and Owen in Colorado Springs. He previously served as the COO at the sports entertainment firm of AEG.

Did you play sports in high school and college? Do you still?

I played tennis and soccer. … I wasn’t really a soccer player; I was a goalkeeper. I played squash for years, and loved it, but my achilles and hips can’t take it any more, so I stick to golf.

Will you, and other senior USOC officials, be joining community boards and becoming more visible in the future?

For me, just the opposite. I was on 10 boards, not all of them in Colorado Springs, and I resigned from nine. I stayed on the EDC (Economic Development Corp.) board, because that’s an important part of what we hope to accomplish here. In the past, we’ve been very isolated from the community. Part of it was geography. But we’re downtown now. One of our senior staff, development director Janine Alfano, has just joined the Philharmonic board. I’m encouraging staff members to get more involved in the community.

When will the Olympic Rings go up on your new building?

We would love to see them up right now — nothing would please me more. The only impediment to sooner rather than later is the budget. I’ll be meeting with the mayor, with the Downtown Partnership, and we’ll be moving forward. We’re hoping to have signage on I-25 as well as on the building.

Both the National Governing Bodies and the International Olympic Committee want more money from the USOC. How will you deal with these competing demands?

Our primary job is to provide money to our NGBs for athletes. Our funds come from lots of different sources, and we have a lot of constituencies. We want to be good partners internationally, which means that we shouldn’t take more than our fair share but we also want to be good partners domestically.

New York and Chicago collectively spent $120 million on their bids for the summer Olympics, only to be rejected. Will other American cities want to bid after their experiences?

I do think that those numbers will discourage other cities from bidding. That’s one of the reasons that we won’t endorse any bid unless we feel that we have a good chance of success. We have a lot of work to do internationally until we reach that position.  n CSBJ

The Amateur Sports Act of 1978 charged the USOC with “promoting and encouraging fitness.” How will you address this?

I think that’s a fair question. Sustained competitive excellence — we’ve done a great job with that, as the medal counts, especially recently, show. The other area is to inspire people to be the best they can be. We’ve had a lot of programs in that area, but we haven’t focused and committed to any of them during a long period of time. Our goal is to pick two or three programs out of 20 or so and really put resources behind them. We’re in the process of drafting a new strategic plan, and what you’ve brought up will be one of the key seven or eight initiatives that we’ll be presenting to the board.

Any thought of making Colorado Springs a test market for these initiatives?

Not specifically. We do have 40 people, out of 200 in the building, participating in “Lighten up Colorado” with the Sportscorp. (Communications director) Patrick Sandusky and I are on the same team, “amazing aweights.”

But we are focused on bringing business to Colorado Springs. I don’t want to say that the community made a bet on us — they made that investment for all the right reasons. And one of the reasons they made that investment was based on the expectation that we’re going to help them grow. That’s what we want to do — so to the extent that we can roll out programs here, or bring events here, we’re going to do that.

The last 10 years have been called the USOC’s ‘lost decade’, with problems attributed to culture, structure and personnel. How will you fix things?

Two words: transparency and engagement. We haven’t exactly been open about a lot of the reasons for our decisions or the factors that went into them. We’re going to show up at the table and have meaningful input. It’s not like we can change the world overnight. We have to build a lot of trust and credibility. You can’t just mandate trust and credibility — you have to earn it. And you earn it by being open and direct and by trying to minimize the number of secrets that you keep. Because we’re a quasi-public institution which is also a private nonprofit, we serve a lot of different interests. There are many constituencies that we need to be straightforward with, and when we make decisions they don’t agree with, we need to make sure they understand why we made them.

Audio excerpt of the interview with Scott Blackmun.