Alan Ashley

Getty Images

USOC fires official as Larry Nassar report released

Leave a comment

DENVER (AP) — An independent report details a toxic pattern of bureaucratic paralysis among Olympic leaders who reacted slowly, if at all, after they knew Larry Nassar was suspected of molesting young gymnasts.

From the top office at the U.S. Olympic Committee to FBI bureaus in three cities to what was essentially an unchecked, rogue operation at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas, nobody stepped in quickly enough to stifle Nassar’s crimes, the report concludes.

That delay ultimately gave Nassar more than a full year to abuse gymnasts after the first allegations surfaced.

The USOC swiftly fired sports performance chief Alan Ashley in the wake of Monday’s release of the 233-page report from the law firm Ropes & Gray. One of its conclusions was that neither Ashley nor Scott Blackmun, who resigned in February as CEO of the USOC, elevated concerns about Nassar’s alleged abuse when they first learned of them from USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny in July 2015.

And an email from Penny notifying Blackmun and Ashley of Nassar’s decision to step down from his volunteer position in September 2015 — after allegations had surfaced but before they’d become widely known — was deleted from both executives’ accounts. The report suggests Blackmun was fearful his email system may have been vulnerable to Russian hacking.

“One thing we’ve learned from this experience is that these types of situations should be escalated,” said Susanne Lyons, a board member who served as acting CEO earlier this year. “Transparency is important.”

The report says the USOC; USAG; Nassar’s employer, Michigan State; and the FBI all failed to protect athletes. The USOC’s failures led to an approximately 14-month period — July 2015 to September 2016 — during which Nassar was allowed to continue to molest girls despite the allegations.

“While Nassar bears ultimate responsibility for his decades-long abuse of girls and young women, he did not operate in a vacuum,” the report says. “Instead, he acted within an ecosystem that facilitated his criminal acts.”

Nassar is serving decades in prison on charges of child pornography and for molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment; many of his accusers testified in heart-wrenching detail at his sentencing hearing in January.

The USOC commissioned the report shortly after the testimony. More than 100 people were interviewed, including some survivors of sexual abuse. But a sizable number of Nassar victims — including 180 being represented by attorney John Manly — refused to participate because Manly didn’t believe the report was completely independent of the USOC.

“That being said, it is a stinging indictment of the highest levels of the leadership of the United States Olympic Committee for their role in the cover-up (of) the largest sex-abuse scandal in the history of sports,” Manly said.

Among the conclusions:

  • Blackmun never reported the allegations to either the USOC board or anyone on his staff. When asked about the Nassar case by chief security officer Larry Buendorf, who had received word separately from Penny, Blackmun told Buendorf he was aware of the issue and did not seek further guidance. Blackmun, who voluntarily answered questions for the report, explained he understood the seriousness of the Nassar allegations but because they involved an “insider” — Nassar was well-respected and had worked with USAG for nearly 30 years — the case was “especially sensitive.”
  • While Penny repeatedly tried to get the FBI to investigate, one of his key objectives was to keep the allegations from spilling into the public, to avoid “sending shockwaves through the community,” as he said in a conversation with an FBI agent. Because of that, very few inside USAG knew the extent of Nassar’s crimes — a factor that curtailed efforts to control him.
  • Despite Penny’s contacts with law enforcement, the report concludes “the investigation appears to have languished … for over seven months” in the FBI’s Detroit office. USAG later took the allegations to the FBI’s Los Angeles office, but not until the Indianapolis Star report detailing Nassar’s abuse came out in September 2016 did that office take action.
  • The Texas training center where much of the abuse occurred was run by Bela and Martha Karolyi, whose penchant for churning out gold medalists earned them virtual carte blanche without having to answer to parents, individual coaches, or USAG and USOC authorities. The harsh regimen they imposed left athletes afraid to report injuries and almost completely beholden to Nassar, who “had broad latitude to commit his crimes, far from the gymnasts’ parents and unimpeded by any effective child-protective measures.”

The backdrop of it all was a U.S. Olympic bureaucracy that had grown reluctant to police the sports organizations it oversaw. When Blackmun took over the USOC, its relationships with the national governing bodies (NGBs) were at a low point. He spent years trying to repair the relationships and the USOC “chose to adopt a deferential, service-oriented approach” to NGBs, according to the report.

“In this governance model, the USOC exerted its broad statutory authority and monetary influence over individual sports primarily for the purpose of encouraging success at the Olympic Games, effectively outsourcing any decisions regarding on-the-ground child-protective practices to the NGBs,” the report states.

That, in the minds of many of the survivors, was the most critical shortcoming: In short, the USOC valued medals over the athletes who won them.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Olympic medalist no longer on USA Gymnastics suspended list

Reality show becomes possible road to Olympics

1 Comment

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The fact that Josh Williamson hadn’t stepped on ice until about a month ago hardly makes him an ideal candidate to become an Olympic bobsledder.

Then again, if Williamson completes the journey from the lacrosse fields in Florida to a bobsled track in Pyeongchang next year – or Beijing in 2022 – he will, in more than one way, be rewriting the script about how an American can become an Olympian.

He is one of eight athletes who have taken the newly opened reality-show route to earn a spot on a U.S. national team camp, which is where America’s Olympians are eventually chosen. Williamson was one of about 3,000 athletes who signed up at a 24 Hour Fitness, passed the initial tryout phase, then made the cut down to 91 athletes, who were invited to the Olympic Training Center for a made-for-TV tryout camp.

From there, eight made national team camps for rugby, track cycling, bobsled and skeleton. Those athletes’ names were announced at the end of a reality show that aired Friday night on NBCSN called “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful.” NBCSN will re-air “Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful” at 8:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

“I think the reason I’ve enjoyed it so much is because I haven’t expected any of it,” Williamson said. “I thought I’d go out, do my best, and with the work, some things have fallen in my lap.”

The 20-year-old Williamson grew up in Orlando, Florida, and traded in football pads for a lacrosse stick in junior high. He went to Mercer University in Georgia to play, but a series of injuries chased him out of the sport.

Back in Florida, he enrolled at Florida State and started working on a degree in finance. But he was a workout junkie, and never gave up on his dreams of making something more out of that. Williamson was planning on attending a bobsledding combine in August, when he heard about the U.S. Olympic Committee’s program.

Williamson signed up, and once in Colorado Springs for the training camp, it didn’t take long for U.S. bobsled coach Brian Shimer to recognize his talent.

“He’s only 20 years old, and very seldom do we get an athlete of that quality at that age,” Shimer said. “His speed, his strength, his power, the push, he’s everything we want to see in a bobsled athlete.”

Besides the eight winners, 23 athletes were invited to continue training in their respective sports.

The USOC’s director of sport performance, Alan Ashley, said this is an out-of-the-box way of identifying elite athletes – football players, runners and the like – whose skills might translate into an Olympic sport, many of which don’t get the mainstream attention as football, basketball, baseball and hockey in America.

“We’ve always believed in `talent transfer’ – high-level athletes who may not make it in one sport but could try out in another,” Ashley said. “But when you think about all the college athletes out there, this could be a stepping stone for people to think about this in a different way.”

Exhibit A could be Williamson, who participated in last month’s National Push Championships in Calgary, and has plans to work out with the U.S. team in Lake Placid, New York, next week. The Winter Olympics are less than six months away, and a spot on the team isn’t completely out of the question. The 2022 Games in Beijing might be more realistic.

Steve Langton, Lou Moreria, these are guys I follow through Instagram, and now I’m there with them,” Williamson said of two of the best push athletes in the United States. “These are kind of my heroes, and I’m sitting next to them trying to compete. I figure no matter how I did, that was enough for me.”

However far he goes, Williamson can already say he made it to the Big Time, at least in a way.

On the reality show, he was a survivor.

“It was interesting, is the best way to put it,” he said of having the tryouts shot for packaging into the two-hour documentary-style program. “It’s harder for them, and sometimes they’d have to do a bunch of takes to make it look good on TV. The difference is, in athletics, you only get one shot at it.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

USOC has no specific medal goals for Sochi Olympics

Alan Ashley
Leave a comment

As is custom, the U.S. Olympic Committee is not announcing specific medal targets for the Sochi Olympics.

“I thought a lot about the medal count,” said Alan Ashley, U.S. chef de mission and USOC chief of sport performance. “The one thing I’ll tell you is I don’t have a specific number. … I think Team USA goes into this in a really good place and can do well like we did in Vancouver.”

The U.S. topped the overall standings at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics with 37 medals. That was the second time it led the Winter Games medal table after Lake Placid 1932.

It also marked the most medals ever won by a single nation at a Winter Olympics, an unsurprising statistic given more events are added to the Olympic program every four years.

The U.S. is expected to contend to win the most overall and gold medals with Germany, Norway, Canada and perhaps Russia. It will be boosted by the addition of new Olympic events snowboard slopestyle, ski slopestyle and ski halfpipe.

The USOC and national governing bodies have also worked together to match “needs with resources” since Vancouver, Ashley said. That’s why sports such as cross-country skiing and biathlon that aren’t traditionally American dominated could see medal breakthroughs in Sochi.

“We’ve been able to really customize and drill down where we can have the greatest impact,” Ashley said. “I’d like to try to get as many athletes opportunities as possible to become obviously Olympians, then become successful Olympians as well.”

U.S. Olympic Team roster with Twitter handles