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Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Goal of 30 medals still on US track team's radar

Associated Press

Though the mission was created by a CEO who has since been fired, leaders at USA Track and Field are still committed to the goal of trying to win 30 medals at the London Olympics.

In the wake of a disappointing showing in Beijing, then-CEO Doug Logan hired a task force to look at the problems that led to the United States winning only 23 medals.

The panel generated a report called "Project 30" -- named as such because in Logan's mind, 30 medals was the mark the Americans should shoot for in 2012.

Logan was fired last year and the search for his replacement has been dragging on for months.

But with the run-up to London beginning in earnest this summer, chairman Stephanie Hightower and chief of sport performance Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, whose position was created as a result of the "Project 30" report, have both told The Associated Press that despite some reservations, the quest for 30 medals is still on the radar.

"The way he went about putting out the goals was pretty unorthodox," Hightower said in a recent interview. "The reality is, he was new to the sport and people questioned whether he had the knowledge coming into the sport to make that kind of determination. Nonetheless, he did it. It's done. And our high-performance plan is based upon getting 30 medals. We're still moving down that path."

In many ways, America competes against itself at world championships and the Olympics. Led by Usain Bolt, Jamaica has the best team in the glamour events -- the sprints -- but America's depth across all disciplines, to say nothing of its size and the money it spends, all but guarantees the United States will win the medal count at major events.

That was the case in 2008, but the 23 medals came off as a disappointment, especially because it included only seven gold -- the lowest total at an Olympics or world championships since the 1997 worlds.

Favorites and world leaders in a number of events -- Tyson Gay, Sanya Richards, Jeremy Wariner, Lolo Jones, Allyson Felix -- failed to win their signature events in Beijing. And both the men's and women's 400-meter relay teams dropped batons in preliminaries, leading to an unfathomable shutout in an event the United States has dominated for decades.

The relay debacle, and the series of organizational miscues that led up to it, was a good way to summarize what a dysfunctional operation the U.S. track team had become. Logan, who was new to the job heading into Beijing, brought in Carl Lewis, Deena Kastor, Fitzgerald Mosley and six others to explore the reasons for the problems.

The panel decried an overall "lack of accountability, professionalism and cohesion" among staff, coaches and athletes. The group suggested athletes focus more on winning Olympic medals, acting like professionals and possibly creating a union, and less on things such as appearance fees and access to TVs in the Olympic village.

"This report has and will produce a significant amount of discomfort and the change that comes with it will produce a significant amount of discomfort," Logan said at the time it was released. "But it's the only way the institution can change and get better."

At the heart of the report was a concrete goal -- 30 medals.

But the report, along with Logan's in-your-face management style, was widely derided by many of the sport's insiders, who ousted the CEO after only two years on the job. Logan sued and the lawsuit was recently settled for terms that have not yet been disclosed. Logan's firing and the lawsuit settlement couldn't make the report go away, however, and so, 30 medals will be the goal, whether it's realistic or not.

"It's out in the public domain, so it's difficult to back away from it now," Fitzgerald Mosley said. "Nor would I want to. I always felt like we got 23 medals at the last Olympics. By all accounts, it's a great showing. But I tell kids this all the time: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If we come one medal closer to that goal as a result of shooting for the stars, then I'm happy with that."

Whether 30 medals is "shooting for the stars" or simply fulfilling potential is a topic of great debate inside USA Track and Field, which has been unable to fill Logan's vacant position in more than six months.

A number of candidates have been considered for a job that's as rife with backroom politics as any in the U.S. Olympic movement. Hightower's name has not fallen out of the conversation, even though that move would spark criticism -- an unpaid member of the board of directors that ousted the last CEO moving into his old job with a six-figure salary. That's precisely what led to turmoil at the U.S. Olympic Committee, when board member Stephanie Streeter was elevated to the CEO's job after Jim Scherr's sudden firing in 2009.

The USOC is watching all these machinations closely. The federation doled out $4.4 million to USATF in 2010.

"What we're looking at is, is our money being invested in the most effective way?" USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said in a recent interview. "We don't do it by saying, if you get 30 medals, you get $2 million. We look at it and say, `Are these athletes on track for London?' If we feel they are, the money goes there. We fund NGBs who look like they're on track."