Task Force Report Critical of USA Track and Field

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Five months after the U.S. track and field team failed to meet expectations at the Beijing Olympics, a high-profile task force charged with investigating the performance released a scathing report yesterday citing a lack of professionalism among athletes, "chaos" in the national organization's relay program and a "culture of mistrust" among athletes and coaches.

The 69-page report authored by nine-time Olympic gold medal winner Carl Lewis and eight other members of the panel recommended an overhaul of USA Track and Field's high-performance program, improvements to its anti-doping policies and the termination of its million-dollar relay developmental program, which the report described as "a waste of money and a failure."

The report caps what has been a difficult decade for USATF, which has struggled to maintain its standing as the world's most decorated track program while being battered by doping revelations and seemingly declining interest -- NBC arranged to have Olympic swimming and gymnastics, not track, live during its U.S. telecasts from Beijing last August.

"The problem now is not that everyone's catching up, but we're going backwards," Lewis said on a conference call with reporters.

USATF Chief Executive Doug Logan called for the analysis soon after the Olympic track and field competition, which featured sub-par performances by many U.S. stars and was dominated by Usain Bolt and other sprinters from Jamaica. Though the United States led all countries by winning 23 track and field medals, its struggles came to a head with stunning, back-to-back dropped relay batons by the men's and women's 4x100-meter relay teams.

"I became uneasy with some aspects of the competition [in Beijing], some of the performances I was witnessing," Logan said during the conference call. "I saw that our athletes were not performing at their peak. The relays gave me a bit of anguish, but at the end of the day, it only became a symptom of what I saw were some significant lapses."

Logan said he would take a couple of weeks to digest the report and solicit opinions before taking action on the recommendations, some of which would require board action and bylaw changes. He said he hoped the task force would reconvene once a year for the next three years to evaluate progress.

"Change never comes out of a climate of comfort," he said. "This report has and will produce a significant amount of discomfort. . . . At the end of the day, this is the only way this institution will be able to . . . realize its potential."

The report said "poor planning" in advance of the Olympics and excessive travel by athletes contributed to the mediocre showing. It called for the creation of a general manager for the organization's high-performance division; the development and support of high-performance training centers across the nation; shorter Olympic trials; specific criteria for athletes to compete as professionals; a comprehensive plan for winning 30 medals at the 2012 Summer Games; the creation of an organized athletes union; and more stringent standards for reinstatement after doping bans.

Members of the independent task force emphasized that U.S. athletes must take a more active role to ensure the sport's success in the United States.

"We have to come together to save our sport," Lewis said. "It was pretty clear to all of us what needed to be done. If, at the end of the day, the athletes accept this and say they are going to make our sport better, there's no problem."

The USATF's five-year-old National Relay Program, which has involved various relay-team training camps and been led by Coach Brooks Johnson, received the heaviest criticism. The dropped batons at the Olympics were the most recent in a history of errors among U.S. relay-team members; seven U.S. relay teams have been disqualified at major events for bobbles, lane infractions or doping violations since the program began.

The report also chided USATF for allowing shoe companies and agents to effectively take over the management of track and field.

"American athletes as a group do not conduct themselves as true professionals, and USATF does not hold them to professional standards," the report said. "USATF, rather than external forces with interests often times at odds with those of the athletes, must educate them and set professional standards."

Logan replaced Craig Masback, who took a marketing job with Nike -- a major USATF sponsor -- early last year. Logan formed the Project 30 Task Force in mid-October, appointing Lewis, 1984 Olympic gold medal winner Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, sports scientist and Olympic hurdler Ralph Mann, track coach Mel Rosen, three-time Olympian Aretha Hill Thurmond and two-time Olympian Deena Kastor. Three other Olympic officials -- Steve Roush, Doug Ingram and Jay Warwick -- were nominated later by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Task force members reviewed more than 240 pages of documents, reports and reference materials, interviewed 30 athletes, coaches, agents, Olympic officials and volunteers, and conducted numerous informal interviews to reach their conclusions.

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