The leadership of the U.S. Olympic Committee held a press conference at the Olympic media center in the hours before the Opening Ceremony that was dominated by discussion about a summer sport—the sexual abuse scandal involving USA Gymnastics athletes who were abused by their convicted former team doctor, Larry Nassar.
In discussing the issue, which dominated the USOC’s opening 45-minute press conference, USOC Chairman Larry Probst said the organization had failed Olympic athletes. “The Olympic system failed you and we are so incredibly sorry,” USOC Board Chair Larry Probst said. “Words cannot express the anger that the board and leadership of the USOC and me personally feel about the human toll that Larry Nassar’s abuse has taken on these young women and their families. I have felt their sense of betrayal, sorrow and anger. The USOC has committed an independent investigation to help us understand who knew what about Nassar’s abuse, when, and what they did with that information.”
Probst said the USOC took too long to reach out to the gymnasts and added that it was a “mistake” and an “error in judgement” that the committee did not send a representative to the Michigan sentencing hearing that exposed the depth of Nassar’s abuse to the world. “We took too long to reach out to the gymnasts after these revelations became public and we’re in the process of doing that now. In terms of a culture change, we have to pay more attention and do a better job when it comes to safe sport.”
Probst also expressed support for USOC CEO Scott Blackmun, who has seen calls for his resignation as a result of the scandal. Blackmun is not in South Korea after recovering two weeks ago from surgery following a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Two U.S. representatives have called for Blackmun to resign, and Congress has indicated it may launch its own investigation into the issue, one Probst said the USOC would cooperate with if asked. “With regard to Scott, he has served the USOC with distinction since he rejoined the organization in 2010 and we think he did what he was supposed to do and did the right thing at every turn,” Probst said.
Probst said that in addition to the USOC’s own internal investigation that has been launched, the board intends to begin a deep dialogue about the nature of its relationship with national governing bodies of Olympic sports, which operate largely independent from the USOC. “We are going to carefully examine the USOC’s relationship with the NGBs,” he said. “They are independent institutions that have their own boards of directors, management teams and revenue-generating machines. But clearly some things have occurred that would indicate that we may need to have a different relationship than we have had in the past. That’s something we’re going to be closely examining and talk about at a board level.”
In addition to the issues surrounding USA Gymnastics, Probst addressed the USOC’s interest in bidding for a future Olympic Winter Games. The International Olympic Committee has set a March 31 deadline for cities interested in hosting the 2026 Games. Three U.S. destinations—Utah, Denver and Reno-Tahoe—have expressed interest and Utah’s exploratory committee has recommended the region move ahead with a bid for 2030, or even 2026 if the USOC decides to bid. But Probst put a halt on speculation about the USOC’s interest in 2026. “We don’t currently have any plans to bid for 2026 and we will keep our options open for 2030,” he said when asked about Utah’s interest.
Pressed further on whether the U.S. would enter the race if the IOC decides to award both events at once similar to its recent announcement for the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games, Probst said the USOC would be prepared to enter the discussion, although he acknowledged the difficulties. “It would make things extremely complicated from a financial standpoint with Los Angeles and their 2028 hosting of the Games,” he said.
Meanwhile, Alan Ashley, the USOC chief of sport performance and chef de mission for the 2018 Games, said he was confident in the venues at the Pyeongchang Games and the experience that athletes will have during the event. The United States has 242 athletes at the Games, who will compete in 97 of the 102 medal events at the Games. The U.S. will also be seeking its 100th medal in team history. (The U.S. comes into the Games with 96 medals all time.)
“As we get into the venues,” he said, “the conditions are just great. One of the things that’s really great are the snow conditions and the ice conditions. We’re getting really good feedback from the teams.”