USOC Seeks Gold With Funding Shift

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Boston, MA Apr. 15 (AP by Steve Wilstein)--On a day that showed the U.S. Olympic Committee's resolve to move beyond scandals, its new boss won approval for sweeping changes and the new head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency vowed to ``catch the cheaters.''

In his first executive committee meeting, CEO Norm Blake encountered plenty of griping about his methods but no resistance to his plan to shake up the organization and shift funding among sports.

Two months after coming in from the business world to tackle the USOC's problems, Blake laid out a detailed blueprint Friday of how he wants to reshape virtually every aspect of the way the USOC and the national governing bodies of sports operate.

``I've never seen an organization like this,'' Blake said of the haphazard way the USOC has been operating, with its far-flung national governing bodies acting like subsidized fiefdoms. ``I'm not saying it's bad, it's just much different than I'm used to.

``But I think we made a great step forward today with the executive committee. They endorsed the organizational direction we're taking, where we are going to be clearly much more cost efficient.

``The bottom line is there is a commitment to becoming more performance oriented.''

The most controversial aspect of Blake's plan, the idea of taking money from about 20 sports that don't figure to win medals and giving more to those that bring in the most gold, was accepted by committee members with little discussion.

So, too, were his calls for a more streamlined structure and a greater accountability for every dollar spent.

``If you try to do things it incrementally, it never gets done,'' Blake said. ``So it was important for me to move with speed and dispatch to try to do the best I could to encompass all the issues and concerns of various constituencies, but frankly not touching every base and holding every hand.''

The next step, Blake said, is to implement the changes while making sure not to alienate anyone in the different sports.

One of his challenges will be to decide how much money to shift from the weaker sports to the traditional powerhouses in the quest for more medals. Some sports already are moving in that direction on their own. Skiing, for example, is shifting money and support out of the Nordic events and into the alpine events. But other sports that can expect cuts, like biathlon, team handball, weightlifting, field hockey and table tennis, are worried about their future.

``They don't know what the impact is going to be yet, and I don't know, truthfully,'' Blake said. ``There is a legitimate concern because it may not be a good thing for them.''

Terry Madden, who resigned as chief of staff to U.S. Olympic Committee president Bill Hybl, said the new independent doping agency plans to conduct more than 5,000 tests on athletes next year, at least half of those tests with no advanced notice.

The agency will have a budget of more than $6 million in its first year, including $2 million in research to come up with better tests for existing performance-enhancing drugs and to stay up to speed with new drugs that might come along.

The new agency also will have the power to punish the athletes.

``We will be the prosecutors of America's athletes,'' Madden said. ``We will protect the innocent but we're going to catch the cheaters and we're going to aggressively prosecute those athletes.

``In the next two years we hope to make an impact, beginning Oct. 1 of this year, so that when we come around to Salt Lake City, the games will be clean for America's athletes.''

Former Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter, who will serve as chairman of the agency, said the time is right for a worldwide push against doping in sports.

``Everyone senses this is it,'' Shorter said, citing a confluence of events from the Tour de France doping scandal to the Olympic drug summit to the Salt Lake Ciity bribery scandal that led to a focus on cheating. ``We are at the point where this has to end.''

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press