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US Olympic Committee board reorganization places 2 women at top

Author: Tom Roeder, The Gazette - September 11, 2018 - Updated: September 27, 2018

Then-acting U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Susanne Lyons testifies before the House Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee about the Olympic community’s ability to protect athletes from sexual abuse, on Capitol Hill May 23, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Ahead of meetings that could lead to changes in how the U.S. Olympic Committee governs individual sports, the organization on Monday announced big changes in its board of directors.

The top board post goes to Susanne Lyons, who filled in as CEO this year after a scandal-driven shake-up at the Colorado Springs headquarters.

With Lyons heading the board and new CEO Sarah Hirshland on the job, the USOC will be led by women for the first time.

Lyons said her goal is to care for athletes and ensure that rules and procedures are in place to prevent sexual attacks.

“This isn’t just about medals and money,” she said.

She replaces Larry Probst, who led the board through sexual assault scandals that rocked the Olympic movement.

Probst announced that he’ll leave in December and apologized for failing to protect athletes from sexual assaults.

“We failed our athletes,” he said. “I’m at the top of the food chain, and we take this very seriously.”

Hirshland, who started the job last month, replaced Scott Blackmun, who stepped down this year amid health problems and the growing sexual assault scandal.

Olympic leaders will huddle at The Broadmoor hotel in the Springs this month for three days of meetings with the bodies that govern individual sports.

Sexual assaults have rocked multiple sports, including gymnastics, swimming and taekwondo.

The USOC is investigating the case of Larry Nassar, a USA Gymnastics doctor who was convicted this year of assaulting scores of athletes as early as 1992. There was no indication Monday as to when the internal review will conclude.

Meanwhile, Congress is pushing for reforms and questioning whether the Olympic Comittee could have done more to protect athletes. And the U.S. Department of Justice last week announced an investigation to determine whether federal investigators flubbed the Nassar case.

“It’s no secret that the USOC is at a particularly challenging time in our history,” Lyons said.

Lyons praised Probst for rebuilding relationships with sponsors and the international Olympic movement.

“The relationship that really needs to be built now is with our athletes,” she said.

The USOC is establishing a panel to give athletes a bigger voice in decisions. It also is working to grow its Safe-Sport program, which aims to protect athletes from sexual predators and other misconduct in sports.

Hirshland emphasized that while the leadership changes will increase the focus on athlete safety, Probst’s departure isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to the scandal.

“There has been very deliberate thought to this transition,” she said.

Tom Roeder, The Gazette

Tom Roeder, The Gazette