Originally created 02/08/00

New USOC leader begins overhaul



COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- If gold medalists Michael Johnson and Amy Van Dyken can spend countless hours preparing for the Olympics, the new chief of the U.S. Olympic Committee expects nothing less of his employees.

Welcome to the USOC under Norman Blake.

"There's no free ride here," Blake said Monday as he officially began work as chief executive officer. "I never want our athletes to feel like we're hangers-on, that we're an unnecessary overhead -- a weight on their back. I want them to look at us and say, `Wow! They really helped me be the best I can be, and they're busting their butt just like I am.'

"If you have to work on weekends, if you have to work at night, that's just what an athlete has to do to get ready for a competition. This is a competition."

Those who followed Blake when he was CEO at insurance giant U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty, and chief of Promus Hotel Corp. are familiar with his competitive nature. They say the 58-year-old Purdue alumnus has a reputation for being a master motivator who can convince his executive staff to embrace his vision and carry it out with efficiency.

"It's pretty fair to say part of his success in the past has been the ability to put a good face on the future and build a following on that," said Michael Smith, a New York-based analyst who follows the insurance industry for Bear Sterns.

"The first change you can expect is a change in the number (of staffers). He's very focused on expenses and running a lean ship."

Blake has promised changes in the way the USOC is managed, but the details probably won't be finalized until the spring. He has set a 90-day timeline to establish goals and objectives, and outline his plan of execution.

"The USOC staff is very hierarchical. There are a lot of assistants and I believe in a flat organization with clear lines of accountability," Blake said. "It doesn't mean that people are going to necessarily be dismissed, but it does mean structurally it's going to change."

This much is certain: success will be measured in gold, silver and bronze. Blake wants the work of his staff to be reflected in the medal count at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, and the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

"That is going to be the bottom line," he said. "That's what the USOC is all about -- better enabling our athletes to compete to the best of their abilities."

Blake met with his seven deputy and assistant executive directors, and his four senior directors Monday to give them an idea of what to expect over the span of his three-year contract.

The new regime will include weekly Monday night meetings in the cafeteria at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Blake also will focus on restoring public confidence in the USOC after the Olympic image was tarnished last year by a bribery scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Games.

"It seems like a completely natural position for him," said David Anders, a lodging analyst for CS First Boston. "I perceive him as a very good leader and not afraid to get involved in a messy situation."