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USOC committed to helping foreign athletes

There will be nothing resembling Spygate to distract the U.S. Olympic Committee. In fact, the USOC actually encourages — gasp! — sharing its secrets with the competition.
2008 U.S. Olympic Team Media Summit
Peter Ueberroth is chairman of the United States Olympic Committee.Matthew Stockman / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

There will be nothing resembling Spygate to distract the U.S. Olympic Committee. In fact, the USOC actually encourages — gasp! — sharing its secrets with the competition.

The federation's board heard plans Wednesday to double the number of foreign athletes it allows into its training facilities, bringing the total to around 3,600 in 2008. Many of those athletes will be among the 10,500 competing in the Beijing Olympics.

"It may force us out of the medal count, but so be it," chairman Peter Ueberroth said. "That's part of the Olympic movement."

It runs counter to the conventional wisdom in sports like, say, the NFL, which treats game plans and coach's signals like state secrets (see Spygate). But it is more in line with the ideals of the Olympic movement, which is to create friendship and harmony across international borders through sports.

"I think initially, there was some skepticism," said Robert Fasulo, who has given form to the program in his two years as chief of international relations. "Now, in looking back, this organization has come a long way in terms of understanding what this is all about."

The athletes span almost all the summer and winter sports — from archery to speedskating to wrestling — and come from many countries, including key competitors China, Russia and Australia.

Fasulo said the USOC has made a "seven-figure" dollar commitment to the program, which is wide-ranging and involves a number of training facilities and sports.

In some cases, it's as simple as allowing an athlete access to a training facility; for instance, the BMX biking track in Chula Vista, Calif., is popular because it's the only one of its kind outside of Beijing.

In other cases, it can involve bringing coaches in to watch practices and take home tips.

It's not just a one-way street.

"In some cases, it's us getting a different perspective on how other teams train, how other athletes live and aspire and motivate themselves," Fasulo said. "It's also part of this concept that we have to think differently about the world now."

For the past few years, Ueberroth has led a movement to try to change the way people in international circles think about the USOC, which was widely regarded as too inward-looking and wracked with turmoil.

Part of reshaping the reputation is geared toward generating goodwill for the ongoing bid process for the 2016 Olympics. The International Olympic Committee is considering Chicago among seven cities, with the winner will be chosen in October 2009.

"It's easy for people to say, `Really, everything they do is just a function of the bid,'" Fasulo said. "But the bid is only one part of what we're trying to do. I think people have taken notice, and appreciate the genuine and substantial effort on our part to change."

In other action, the USOC board:

  • Delayed voting on a proposal that would keep Ueberroth in the organization as a nonvoting "ex officio" member of the board through the 2016 bid process and the 2010 Winter Olympics. The public comment period on the proposal was extended through June 25 and the vote is now planned for July. The move has been proposed to establish more continuity among the Olympic leadership. Ueberroth said he would stay on if asked.

"Peter's involvement provides more effective leadership for the USOC and the bid, internationally," CEO Jim Scherr said. "It adds to the assets we bring to the table."

  • Heard details on the logistics of bringing the 600-member team to China. The USOC is finalizing the distribution of more than 34,000 tickets to families of the athletes. Chief of sport performance Steve Roush said individual sports are being notified this week of their allotments, and every athlete will get two tickets for every event he or she is participating in. He said the Beijing organizing committee received quadruple the number of ticket requests as Athens did in 2004.
  • Discussed the tragedy in China, where an earthquake has killed more than 15,000 people. Ueberroth said the USOC has written to leaders in the Chinese Olympic movement and offered to assist.

"Our hearts went out to the families involved in the devastation," Ueberroth said.