USOC CEO Scott Blackmun resigns, cites health problems

Getty Images
0 Comments

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Scott Blackmun resigned as chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee on Wednesday, citing difficulties with prostate cancer and the federation’s need to urgently move forward to address the sex abuse scandal that has rocked gymnastics.

The 60-year-old CEO was diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier this winter and did not attend the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Blackmun leaves amid calls for his departure, including from two U.S. senators who said neither he nor the USOC at large reacted properly to sex abuse cases involving Larry Nassar, the doctor who abused members of the U.S. gymnastics team.

The USOC is conducting an independent review of when Blackmun and others learned the details about abuse cases at USA Gymnastics and whether they responded appropriately.

Susanne Lyons, a member of the board, will serve as acting CEO.

At a news conference to kick off the Olympics, USOC chairman Larry Probst said Blackmun had served the USOC with distinction and the board found no reason to relieve him.

“Given Scott’s current health situation, we have mutually agreed it is in the best interest of both Scott and the USOC that we identify new leadership so that we can immediately address the urgent initiatives ahead of us,” Probst said in a press release Wednesday.

The USOC said it was starting several initiatives, including providing new funding and resources for Nassar victims. It also will review its relationships with national governing bodies of Olympic sports and double funding to the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

John Manly, an attorney representing Nassar victims in a lawsuit that seeks monetary damages and court oversight of USA Gymnastics, said it was victims speaking out about the USOC that forced Blackmun to resign.

“USOC has focused nearly all its efforts on money and medals while the safety of our athletes has taken a back seat,” Manly said.

Blackmun’s last several years at the helm of the USOC have been focused on establishing SafeSport, which stemmed out of task forces to determine how to compel governing bodies of all Olympic sports to use the same rules for reporting and handling abuse cases.

It was a herculean task that involved raising millions of dollars to start an independent organization that polices abuse cases in a similar manner as the independent U.S. Anti-Doping Agency runs doping control in the United States.

But all the cases in question — including dozens involving USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics — occurred before the new protocols came into play. The shocking testimony from dozens of gymnasts who were abused by Nassar led to calls for a complete turnover of the USA Gymnastics board, and then for Blackmun’s removal.

“The U.S. Olympic Committee must now bring on new leadership determined to deliver answers and accountability regarding how Larry Nassar was able to freely abuse young girls for decades, as well as answers to questions about abuse in other Olympic programs,” said U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

An attorney for retired Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors, Robert Allard, said Blackmun didn’t protect athletes from predatory coaches among the governing bodies of several sports. ‘

The 28-year-old world champion has accused her former coach Sean Hutchison of sexually abusing her starting when she was 16. Hutchison has denied the accusations and has not been charged with a crime, saying they had a consensual relationship when she was of legal age.

“Moving forward, the culture that allowed sexual abuse to fester and thrive under Blackmun must be destroyed,” Allard said.

Blackmun started as CEO just before the 2010 Vancouver Games and settled an organization that had been rife with infighting after the surprise removal of Jim Scherr and his replacement with Stephanie Streeter, who lasted barely a year.

Blackmun smoothed over rocky relationships with national governing bodies and with the International Olympic Committee, renegotiating an agreement over sharing revenues from TV and sponsorship deals that caused problems between the two entities for years.

The reworked deal smoothed the way for the USOC to bring the Olympics back to the United States for the first time since 2002, when it landed the 2028 Games for Los Angeles. Some, however, criticized that deal as a consolation prize; LA really bid for the 2024 Games, which were awarded to Paris, and the IOC ended up granting 2028 to Los Angeles at the same time as the only other candidate for 2024.

IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
Getty
0 Comments

GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
Getty
0 Comments

If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!