U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Quits
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) _ The corporate turnaround artist hired nine months ago to overhaul the U.S. Olympic Committee resigned Wednesday amid criticism that his techniques were better suited to the business world than the athletic field.
Norm Blake, who was the first chief executive officer in the 106-year history of the USOC, stood by his ambitious plan.
``The organization deserves the opportunity to re-examine its commitment to change,″ he said. ``I’ve freed them of the burden of having to worry about Norm Blake.″
Blake cut staff, proposed slashing money for sports in which Americans rarely win medals, and tied USOC funding for national sports governing bodies to how many medals are won. Critics said the ``money-for-medals″ plan was unfair to smaller sports such as archery and table tennis.
Athlete representatives on the USOC’s executive committee were angered by some of Blake’s moves, saying they did not have enough say in the decision-making process. They considered but rejected a censure motion in August.
``It’s always challenging, particularly in an organization like the USOC, to do what he set out to do,″ said Paul George, a USOC vice president. ``I think for Norm this is the right decision. I think he was getting very frustrated.″
He took over the USOC in February amid fallout from the bribery scandal enveloping the Salt Lake City Games. He was expected to make the not-for-profit organization more like a professional sports league, with a paid staff rather than volunteers handling training, team selection and other issues for U.S. teams in the Olympics and Pan-American Games.
Blake will remain in place until a successor is picked and trained. There is no timetable for his replacement.
``We do need someone with solid business experience,″ USOC President Bill Hybl said. ``We need someone with leadership skills. We may look at someone with an Olympic background or a sports background.″
Blake previously was chief executive of U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty, an insurance and financial company he led from the brink of bankruptcy in 1990 to a $250 million profit in 1998. He also guided Promus Hotel Corp. to a lucrative merger with Hilton Hotels.
The 104-member USOC board of directors gave Blake a three-year contract, the newly created title of CEO and unprecedented authority that previously was shared by the president and the executive officer.
He fired about 40 employees from the 500-member staff and reduced the number of working committees and task forces from more than 40 to four.
Blake also compiled a detailed blueprint to make the sports governing bodies more accountable for their USOC grants, even tying funding to medal counts _ a plan unanimously endorsed by the USOC executive committee.
``I think the USOC for a long time has been more process-oriented than a business model, and that creates some conflicts,″ USA Gymnastics President Bob Colarossi said. ``I have a tremendous amount of respect for Norm. I am sorry to see him leave. I think he was a breath of fresh air.″
Blake acknowledged Wednesday that he could have communicated better while installing his plan. But he urged that others finish what he started.
``The blueprint has been designed. The foundation is laid,″ he said. ``I now call on this organization to continue its resolve to move forward in the better service of our athletes.″
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