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Blackmun: perfect for USOC

Between the Lines



Nobody will have to show the U.S. Olympic Committee's new CEO around the Olympic complex. Or Colorado Springs, for that matter.

Scott Blackmun, introduced Wednesday morning as the choice to take over the USOC's daily operations, will not require a learning and adjustment period in his new challenge. He knows exactly what he's getting into, and how much his position means to Colorado Springs in 2010 and beyond.

Blackmun, a respected 52-year-old attorney and administrator, served as the USOC's acting CEO from November 2000 through October 2001. Since 2006, he's been a partner in the law firm of Holme Roberts & Owen.

From his first day back in the CEO's office, with a four-year contract and a $450,000 annual salary, he'll be charged with promoting the Olympic movement, strengthening the finances, maintaining the best possible mix of corporate sponsors and, not to be downplayed, rebuilding stronger ties with the International Olympic Committee. And let's add an additional task: forging a more personal relationship with the USOC's home city.

Once a search committee whittled down a wide array of candidates from the business and sports worlds, the USOC board selected two finalists: Blackmun and USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus. Wielgus, 59, leads one of the USOC's marquee member sports, which enjoyed huge exposure and many medals at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

Colorado Springs couldn't have lost with either. Both of them live here, and both are top-notch on professional and personal levels. But of course, Wielgus and Blackmun had their separate backers.

It's safe to say a good number of leaders from the individual sports wanted Wielgus, in part because the national governing bodies felt alienated when previous CEO Jim Scherr, a former Olympic wrestler, was suddenly ousted and replaced last year by Stephanie Streeter, a former Stanford women's basketball player with no background in sports administration. Then again, many of those same people — as well as USOC staffers who've been around a while — have known Blackmun as a clear-headed, unswervingly fair leader who helped the USOC through a painful time when he was acting CEO.

You'd have a difficult time finding enemies of Wielgus or Blackmun, which made this decision all the more fascinating. More than a few inside the USOC were saying they would be equally pleased with, and supportive of, either finalist. Their early reactions to the news have confirmed that.

It could have come down to which mixture of attributes the USOC board values more: Wielgus with his marketing strengths, Blackmun with his sports-centric legal savvy. Both already know the lay of the land on the global Olympic scene, expertise that will prove vital as soon as the Vancouver Winter Games in February, when a new CEO will have the opportunity to make countless positive impressions.

This column's first draft was done before the news broke, and in it, my hope was that the USOC would go with Blackmun. He stepped in after one of the Olympic Committee's all-time gaffes in hiring Norm Blake as CEO, and cleaned up all the damage from Blake's short but destructive reign. Blackmun applied for the permanent position, with broad staff and NGB support, but in late 2001 the USOC board made another ill-fated decision, bringing in one more non-sports businessman, Lloyd Ward. After Ward crashed and burned amid ethical issues just 15 months later, Scherr took the post.

But Blackmun never lashed out, never burned his bridges, and he further developed his résumé by spending four-plus years (2002-2006) as chief operating officer of the Anschutz Entertainment Group.

Something else: Blackmun has been actively involved in Colorado Springs for more than 20 years, serving on nonprofit boards and helping various causes. He has friends and longtime acquaintances throughout the city. That might not have mattered much to the USOC board, but it will serve him well now.

Honestly, it could've been Wielgus, and that would've been fine. But it seems as though Blackmun's professional life has led to this moment, and the chance to take the USOC toward new horizons.

Nobody has to tell him how to do the job. And that's just one more reason Scott Blackmun could become the best executive the USOC has ever had.

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