The Boss – Behind The USA Medal Machine
By Mike Moran
February 23, 2010 #13 The Boss – Behind The USA Medal Machine
The U. S. Olympic Team, now delivering its third straight solid Winter Games performance, might not know it, but the foundation for its success was created two decades ago by the storied baseball owner George Steinbrenner……….. it was on February 19, 1989 in Portland, Oregon, that The Boss delivered a 21-page report of the Olympic Overview Commission that forever altered the manner by which the United States Olympic Committee would deliver financial support to our athletes, and mandate a focus on achievement and success not unlike his personal mantra with his cherished New York Yankees…………. the commission members, appointed during the 1988 Calgary Winter Games by USOC President Robert H. Helmick, were Chairman Steinbrenner, Mary Cullen, a Houston Olympic booster and donor, James T. Morris, the president of the Eli Lilly Foundation in Indianapolis; Ambassador J. William Middendorf; Robert Sheppard, former chairman of Allstate Insurance; Frank J. Heffron, the dean of the Fordham University Business School, Michael Lenard, a Los Angeles lawyer, former Olympic team handball player and vice president of the USOC’s Athletes Advisory Board, Olympic track star and USOC vice-president Herman Frazier, Olympic rower Tiff Wood, and board member Peter Lippett ………the report mandated several things, including a reduction of the USOC’s bulky Board of Directors, stricter accountability and more, but the main message was simple— provide far more money to America’s athletes through expanded tuition assistance, job programs and direct financial payments………….. until that report, the most that any American athlete had received in one year from the USOC was $2,500 from our old Operation Gold, and we were further hindered by the fact that many of our top athletes were still NCAA athletes, and they could not receive anything from the USOC or forego their college eligibility if they did..….….. the USOC was quick to react, in partnership with the vital National Governing Bodies, creating special performance-based funding and training grants, pouring millions into direct support and enhanced, targeted programs designed to put American athletes right on the podium at the Games, Summer and Winter………. first it was some $7 million ahead of the 1998 Nagano Games, then $33 million ahead of the Salt Lake Games in Podium 2002, which produced a whopping 34 medals for the United States, up from just 13 in Nagano, where we had a score of near misses and fourth-place finishes……….. it was the greatest turnaround in medals in Olympic history……………. similar programs were delivered before the Summer Games in Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Beijing, as was the case in the run-up to Torino and now, Vancouver…………in the leadup to Vancouver, the USOC added almost $17 million to the winter sports NGBs coffers in the last year to enhance the opportunity for success……….. making he bottom line almost $59 million since Torino……….. but this did not begin comfortably for the USOC……………….. on February 23, 1988 in Calgary, in the middle of a dismal performance by our Olympic Team that would produce only six medals (two gold, by speedskater Bonnie Blair and figure skater Brian Boitano)……….. I was ordered to President Helmick’s suite at our hotel, where I faced Helmick and Steinbrenner in chairs with their arms crossed…………. they told me they wanted to announce, the next morning, a special commission, chaired by Steinbrenner, that would do a bottoms-up review of how the USOC functioned a decade after the passage of the Amateur Sports Act. It would be commissioned to totally remake the structure of the USOC and create new energy and direction…………. Helmick asked me what I thought of the timing, and I told him directly, “Bob, we can’t do this here, the media will eat us alive and the athletes will be embarrassed and angry because it looks like it’s a knee-jerk response to their own performance.”……………. Steinbrenner gave me a look that he had likely used on Billy Martin more than once……………Helmick told me that we were going ahead anyway, and for me to make the preparations and the message to the media……….. so we forged ahead, and the New York media in particular had us for breakfast, attacking our selection of Steinbrenner as a “win at all costs” mentality and worse…………. but a year later, Steinbrenner deliverd the report, the culmination of a year’s hard work of more than 400 interviews and 15 commission meetings, and it changed the future for our athletes and the USOC……….’Winning medals must always be a primary goal,” it stated, “But the charge of the USOC should be to ensure conditions enabling American athletes the unfettered opportunity to prepare themselves to compete internationally to the best of their abilities.”………….. it became the most important document in our history at the time, and opened the doors to athletes like the ones we see making us proud in Vancouver to succeed and prolong their careers……………the USOC has stayed faithful to the concept, on the shoulders of capable sport performance executives like Jim Page, Scott Blackmun, Jim Scherr, and now, Mike English and the dedicated National Governing Bodies and leaders like Bill Marolt of skiing, Dave Ogrean of ice hockey, Dave Raith of figure skating, Ron Rossi at luge, and their colleagues in the rest of the winter and summer sports NGBs, the organizations that develop, nurture and prepare their athletes for the USOC on the big stage………the USA has led the medal count in Atlanta, Sydney and Beijing, and has a chance to land atop the Winter Games chart for the first time since the tiny 1932 Games in Lake Placid…………America? A winter sport power? Yes, and it will stay that way, too…………….. George Steinbrenner retired from his USOC roles in 2002, funding an award in his name for the USOC to be presented annually to an athlete who gives something back to the cause………. there are dozens of untold stories of his personal generosity for American athletes in need of a check, which he handed them…………. at a meeting in New York one year a long time ago, I introduced him to Olympic sprinter Diane Dixon, who grew up and trained in Brooklyn………. she had told me she was moving to Louisiana to train because she couldn’t find a job near her home…………I walked away from their chat, and moments later, Dixon came over and gave me a hug, telling me that Steinbrenner had just hired her to work in the Yankee Stadium pressbox……….. despite that umcomfortable 1988 morning in Calgary, Steinbrenner was always a friend to me and in 1996, he gave me a seat in his box at Yankee Stadium for the first two games on the World Series with the Braves, placing me in a seat between Dr. Henry Kissinger and his wife, Nancy and just in back of Joe DiMaggio and Donald Trump…………The Boss awaits the first pitch of the 2010 season somewhere in Tampa, and I would bet he’s watching a lot of the Vancouver coverage on NBC, too…………if he is, he has a lot of reasons to be proud.
Mike Moran Senior Media Consultant The Colorado Springs Sports Corporation 1631 Mesa Ave., Suite E Colorado Springs, CO 80906 (719) 634-7333, ext. 1011
Mike Moran was the chief spokesman for the United States Olympic Committee through thirteen Games, 1980-2002. The Omaha, Nebraska native was the Sports Information Director at the University of Colorado for a decade before joining the USOC in 1978 as it left New York City for Colorado Springs. He was the Senior Communications Counselor for NYC2012, New York City’s Olympic bid group from 2003-2005 and is now a media consultant. Reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org and read more of his columns at www.coloradospringssports.org <http://www.coloradospringssports.org/>Print This Post