CHICAGO (AP) _ Norman Blake, a corporate executive with a knack for turning businesses around, took on the biggest challenge of his career today by becoming CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Blake's election to the newly created post of chief executive officer was almost a foregone conclusion. He was elected by the USOC's 19-member executive committee after being picked the top choice by a search committee. The field had been narrowed to six candidates, including Women's World Cup CEO Marla Messing.

Blake, who begins work Feb. 15, takes over at a critical time for USOC. Its credibility has been damaged by the bribery scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Games. At the same time, the organization is undergoing a restructuring effort that will shift unprecedented control to the CEO.

Former NCAA executive director Dick Schultz, who served in the same capacity with the USOC, had been the organization's top-salaried manager. He will remain with the USOC through the end of the year.

Blake, 58, worked for General Electric, Fujibank and was CEO of U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty, an insurance and financial company. He led USF&G from the brink of bankruptcy in 1990 to a $250 million profit in 1998, and also guided Promus Hotel Corp. to a lucrative merger with Hilton Hotels last year.