Media Press Release

Audio & Transcript: March 2024 USOPC Leadership Press Briefing

by USOPC

Below is the audio recording and transcript from the U.S Olympic and Paralympic Committee leadership press briefing on Thursday March 14, following the board of directors meeting via teleconference.

AUDIO


TRANSCRIPT

Operator:

Good day everyone, and welcome to today's US Olympic and Paralympic Committee Board Briefing. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, you will have an opportunity to ask questions during the question and answer session. You may register to ask a question at any time by pressing the star and one keys on your telephone keypad. Please note this call is being recorded and that I will be standing by should you need any assistance. It is now my pleasure to turn today's program over to Kate Hartman.

Kate Hartman:

Thank you Chelsea and welcome everyone. Thank you for joining us, especially at this later hour for our East Coast and Central Time Zone attendees. I'm joined today by Gene Sykes, our Chair of the US OPC Board, as well as Sarah Hirshland, our CEO. We're going to jump into things really quickly, but I wanted to just set some ground rules first. After opening remarks by both Gene and Sarah, we will turn it over to questions. We just ask that everyone limits their turn to one question per turn and we promise we will get back to you if time allows. So with that, I turn things over to Gene.

Gene Sykes:

Thank you very much Kate, and thank you all for joining us today. We had a very productive board meeting held virtually this week, that welcomed all of our board members from around the country and even overseas. It's no secret we are in an extraordinarily exciting and also extraordinarily busy period in the run-up to the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. That excitement and energy was evident in our meetings today and yesterday. I'll start things off by providing you with an overview of what we discussed in the board meeting and then ask our CEO, Sarah Hirshland, to give an update as well. As always, we appreciate you taking the time to these updates. With that, onto the business of the board.

Let me start with Salt Lake City 2034. We crossed an important milestone in the effort to bring the Olympic Winter Games back to the United States. Our friends and partners on the outstanding Salt Lake City-Utah Committee submitted their bid files to the IOC on February 29th. This moment represents an incredible amount of technical planning and thought, laying out not only a wonderful vision built on community legacy and love of sport, but a detailed look at the plan to welcome, support and celebrate the athletes of the world, and the fans who will cheer them on.

We now look forward to welcoming the IOC Future Host Committee for a visit, which will take place next month, a great opportunity for Salt Lake City and Utah to make the connection between the plan on paper and the great realities of seeing the Games, the venues and the broad enthusiasm for welcoming the Games in person. Of course, we're all working toward the official endorsement of the IOC, an election that will officially name Salt Lake as the host of the 2034 Games at the IOC session, which will take place in Paris this summer. As always, our gratitude goes out to the great partners that we have in Utah.

We also had an update from Michael Leonard representing the Court of Arbitration for Sport, or CAS, and we received our regular update from Ju'Riese Colon from the US Center for SafeSport. Ju'Riese was also joined by the Chair for the Center for SafeSport, Paralympian, April Holmes. Both of these conversations were not only enlightening and important, they were also timely given the state of the movement in relation to matters of arbitration associated with anti-doping and athlete eligibility, and of course, our movement's prevailing commitment to keeping athletes safe. Michael and Ju'Riese were both very informative and forthcoming and it was quite helpful for the entire board to hear from them. We also had an NGBC update from Li Li Leung and Pat Kelleher representing the National Governing Board Council. As always, we thank them for their leadership of the NGBC and the partnership of the entire Council, as we work together to support the athletes of team USA.

I can with full confidence describe the role of the board of the US OPC in a way that is reflected in the confirmation of our mission. We're committed to athlete support, to athlete excellence, to good governance, to celebrating the achievements of Team USA and to forwarding the values of the Olympic and Paralympic movements. We're committed to helping the US OPC achieve organizational excellence. As part of our commitment and in line with standard governance practice, we continually evaluate our mission. And just today, we approved an updated mission statement and I'm pleased to read it to you now. "Empowering the competitive excellence and well-being of Team USA athletes, championing the power of sport and inspiring the nation."

I'm happy now to hand the call over to the US OPC CEO and my partner, Sarah Hirshland, for further updates and we'll be happy to answer questions when we open the line later on in the call. Sarah?

Sarah Hirshland:

Thank you Gene, and good afternoon and good evening to many of you. Thank you for joining us. It goes without saying that excitement and anticipation for Paris from the sport to the culture and the city and to the handoff to LA '28, and we hope the election of Salt Lake '34, was all a topic of conversation and a consistent theme throughout our time together. As you can imagine, our organization's focus is very squarely on providing the best possible support for both our national governing body partners and Team USA athletes as we look ahead over these next few months.

I feel compelled to start any update focused on sport performance in the athletes of Team USA, and while we're very focused on qualification for the upcoming Paris Games, I do want to highlight a few outstanding recent performances. Just a few days ago in Germany, athlete Jordan Stolz claimed the World Speed Skating All Around Championship. He set a new world record for points in the competition and he is the youngest World All Around Champion since American legend, Eric Heiden in 1978, truly an extraordinary athlete.

We were also thrilled to see Mikaela Shiffrin back from injury, back on skis and back to her dominating best this past weekend. Ilia Melanin, still only 19, repeated as the US Men's Champion at the US Figure Skating Championships in January, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, reigning World Champions and undefeated since the start of 2023, captured their fifth US Ice Dance title.

In the sport of biathlon, the men's relay team had their best ever result at a World Cup, finishing in fourth place at Soldier Hollow last week. Campbell Wright took sixth place in the 10K Sprint, his highest World Cup finish to date. You can imagine sitting in Colorado with 10 inches of snow on the ground that our focus on winter sport has not waned, and we're excited about the incredible, incredible performances across the winter season this year.

Let's wrap with a look at Para alpine skiing. Paralympic gold medalist, Andrew Kurka won gold at the recent Fisk Para Alpine World Cup, his first victory since suffering an injury in Beijing in 2022. And I have to comment quickly on a very, very exciting piece of news for us. With his recent commitment to the University of Southern California, World Champion, Ezra Frech made history as the first ever above-the-knee amputee to commit to compete at the NCAA Division One level in track and field, a huge accomplishment and our massive congratulations go out to Ezra.

And not surprisingly, on the Paris front, Team USA, both the Olympic and Paralympic teams are taking shape quite nicely. As of today, we have 41 athletes qualified by name for the Olympic Games across 10 sports, another 16 Olympic teams that have qualified and have not yet named their rosters. 16 athletes have qualified by name for the Paralympic Games across five sports, and we have five Paralympic teams that have qualified yet to name the specifics of their rosters. So while that's a big group already, there is a lot more to come here in the coming weeks. We have an expected team size of 616 for the Olympic team and an expected team size of 240 for the Paralympic team. The progress of athletes qualifying is tracked in real time now on teamusa.com, as part of our Making Team USA initiative. It's a great way to follow along and learn more about the athletes who will compete in Paris this summer.

Lastly, the majority of Team USA qualifies through our Olympic and Paralympic team trials event, a direct pathway in many sports, and also widely regarded as some of the toughest competition anywhere in the world. As you've heard many times before, but it's worth repeating, earning the right to represent team USA at the Games is sometimes actually harder than the competition at the Games itself. That's a remarkable tribute to our country's elite athletes. I certainly plan to be at as many of the trials events over the coming weeks and months as possible to celebrate and honor the athletes as they earn their place on Team USA, and I invite and sincerely hope that you'll plan to join us.

Moving on from sport and focusing a bit on an important milestone two weeks ago, the official report from the Congressional Commission on the state of the US Olympic and Paralympics was published. Let me start by extending my appreciation to all the members of that Commission and to Congress for their dedication and commitment. The report offered helpful perspective on many topics that our movement's been evaluating and discussing for many years. These are important conversations to have today and to continue as a community as we look forward. Over the past five years, we've undergone a journey of transformation and growth. We have navigated through a sea of challenges and have risen from them stronger and with a renewed unwavering commitment to our mission and to continued advancement and progress.

In addition to conversations among our community, I'll be in Washington in the coming weeks to talk with legislators and staff and we'll remain active in these conversations. And while our focus remains on providing certainty to athletes, fans and donors that the United States is ready for a strong showing in Paris, a successful Summer Games in LA and securing a Winter Games in Salt Lake, we recognize the importance of ongoing progress around all the aspects of our movement and we're committed to that dialogue. Additionally, reflective of an important ongoing conversation and also a topic raised in the report, we remain engaged on the topic of college sports and we echo our strong advocacy for securing the broad presence of Olympic and Paralympic sport on college campuses. This is a priority subject for us and we'll continue to work with our athlete representatives, the Collegiate Advisory Council and the NGBs to ensure that Olympic and Paralympic sport opportunities are central to this conversation.

In closing, it's a privilege to support Team USA and over my time here, I am continually amazed when I learn the incredible stories behind the incredible feats on the field of play. These are stories I hear from athletes in the village, in airports, at venues, over the phone. They're always marked by a love of sport, of achieving greatness in sport or a discipline, of representing their family, their community, their university, and of course their country. These athletes truly are the best of us. I want to thank you again for your coverage of Team USA. I look forward to seeing many of you at our Team USA Media Summit next month. And with that, let me turn it back to Kate.

Kate Hartman:

Thanks, Sarah. Thanks Gene. With that, Chelsea, we can open the call to questions.

Operator:

At this time, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1 on your telephone keypad. You may remove yourself from the queue at any time by pressing *2. Once again, that is *1 to ask a question, and our first question comes from Lisa Roche with Deseret News, Salt Lake City.

Lisa Roche:

Thank you. I appreciate you doing this. I'm wondering what the USOPC's role will be in the Future Host Commission visit to Salt Lake City and what you think the city, especially Utahns need to do to make this visit a success? Thank you.

Gene Sykes:

It's Gene. Let me handle that if I can. First of all, both Sarah and I will be present for the Future Host Commission. We know many of the members of the Future Host Commission. Sarah was just in Laussane two weeks ago, and I've maintained a very good dialogue with many of the IOC members who are a part of that. So we've been in touch with them, honestly, for well over a year in preparing for exactly this sort of interaction and the Salt Lake City-Utah team has done an incredible job of preparing all of the work they need to prepare in order to be in a tremendous position to explain the logic of Salt Lake City as a host candidate, or really a host for the 2034 Games. There's not a more attractive host to the IOC than Salt Lake City, and the story of the remarkable sport culture within Salt Lake and across the State of Utah is very, very impressive.

So we're looking forward to working with them and we expect this to be a very positive interaction. And the expectation on the part of the IOC is that this will confirm what they already have learned about the Salt Lake City team and the atmosphere within Utah, which is it's a tremendously supportive culture and a place where the excitement of the Olympic and Paralympic Games can feel very much at home.

Operator:

Our next question will come from Philip Hirsch with NBC Sports.

Philip Hirsch :

Hello?

Sarah Hirshland:

Yeah. Hi, Phil. We can hear you.

Philip Hirsch :

Hi, Sarah. About a month ago, regarding the figure skating medal presentation situation, you told us that the IOC had given you approval to give the medals to that team anytime, any place. I wonder if the appeals by Russia and Canada have delayed this process in your mind, and would you do a presentation for just the US team sometime soon in the hopes that the formal presentation to all the teams would be someplace very public later?

Sarah Hirshland:

Thanks, Phil. Great question, and yes, the variety of appeals may in fact delay the award of those medals, although it is our hope and sincere interest in being able to award those medals in Paris. That is what the team has requested and we believe that that can happen regardless of the hearings. Obviously, we're not in control of that timeline, but it's certainly our hope that that's what we're able to do.

Operator:

Thank you. Our next question will come from Rachel Axon with the Sports Business Journal.

Rachel Axon:

Thank you both for taking the call. I know in talking to the Salt Lake City officials and the IOC officials, that part of this process here is working out what the commercial relationship would be between USOPC and the OCOG, assuming the confirmation of that. I'm wondering where you all are in that discussion in terms of going from the LA joint venture straight to Salt Lake or maybe having a gap? Just where do things stand on ironing out that aspect of this?

Sarah Hirshland:

Yeah, Rachel, this is Sarah. I'll take that, and you're right that there are some specific requirements from the IOC on what is essentially a joint marketing arrangement. And so we have been in discussions with the Salt Lake-Utah team to iron out the specifics of what's required by the IOC at this stage. That is by no means a complete picture of exactly how this will work over the course of the next 10 years, but we have some of the framework in place for how we will partner together and work to drive the domestic commercial sponsorship and licensing structure in a way that maximizes the opportunity for the movement in the market, ensures a very healthy bit of sponsor activation and energy around both the gains and Team USA.

So we've ironed out the details that are required to be ironed out in order to submit the final details to the IOC for their consideration, and we're feeling really optimistic about the partnership with the folks in Utah.

Operator:

Thank you. Once again, that is *1 to ask a question. And our next question will come from Julie Jag with The Salt Lake Tribune.

Julie Jag:

Hello and Happy Pie Day.

Sarah Hirshland:

Hi, Julie.

Julie Jag:

Hope you're doing well. So my question was that I hope you're getting some pie is really what it is.

Sarah Hirshland:

I was going to say we didn't send pie to all the board members for our virtual meeting. Maybe we should have.

Julie Jag:

What? Yes, that's the thing. Well, you have to order pizza. That'll do. Yeah. So as I'm sure you're aware, there's much talk in Salt Lake City of possibly bringing in an NHL or an MLB team or both, and there has been talk also of using those stadiums for the Olympics should Salt Lake City get them. I was just wondering what the USOPC's take is on what role those stadiums could play and how important they are to the success of potential Winter Games?

Sarah Hirshland:

Yeah, it's a great question, and I'll say the submission to the IOC and the contemplation for these Games are not reliant on any of that conversation at all. And so we're in an incredibly privileged position in Salt Lake and Utah with an incredible set of existing venues from the 2002 Games that have been kept up and invested in, and frankly, many team USA athletes are training in them on a regular basis and a lot of young people are learning sport in them. So we have a wonderful situation.

I think if there are new buildings built between now and 2034, I'd imagine that the Salt Lake-Utah team will evaluate whether they should be part of the Games or not. But certainly, the bid and the award doesn't depend on any of that.

Julie Jag:

Great. Thanks so much.

Operator:

Our next question will come from Matt Traub with the Sports Travel Magazine.

Matt Traub:

Hi. This is for either Sarah or Gene. In the Commission's report, it mentioned a recommendation about... And it raised the issue of whether or not the Olympics and Paralympics should be held in the future at the same time. Obviously the schedules have already been set for LA, but is that something that you think the USOPC may want to bring to the IOCs attention when it comes to X number of Games in the future?

Gene Sykes:

Well, maybe I'll talk about this. Sarah can chip in as well. We're reviewing the recommendations put forth by the Commission, and this only happened now a couple of weeks ago and it's a very substantive, very thorough, comprehensive report with many recommendations and a lot of work was done. It's 277 pages long. So all of the report deserves attention, study and consideration by us. We have a good relationship with the IOC and on all of the topics like this topic, how do we think about integration of Olympic and Paralympic sport? We have an open dialogue with them, so we'll want to give some consideration of this, think about it, and then have a discussion with the IOC and ask the IOC and the IPC how they think about some of these things, with the idea that we want to make all of the experience of Olympic and Paralympic sport more meaningful for more people.

Operator:

Thank you. Our next question will come from Nicholas Wolaver with the Olympic Rings and Other Things.

Nicholas Wolaver:

Thank you. Can you hear me okay?

Sarah Hirshland:

We can.

Nicholas Wolaver:

Excellent. Building on Phil Hirsch's question about the figure skating medals, the New York Times recently reported on other US athletes who earn medals as the result of doping disqualifications, and the article mentioned more than one option for potential ceremonies to award these medals either at the track or at the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to know from Sarah, how are the discussions going for these less celebrated medal ceremonies? How are you planning for these in tandem with or separate from the figure skating medal ceremony?

Sarah Hirshland:

Yeah, thanks Nick for the question and let me clarify, no less celebrated. Different in that there are some athletes who have been awarded medals and this is a reallocation of their position. I believe those are the ones you're referencing and obviously for the figure skating team, they've not gotten an award at all. Equally important to celebrate both. Although as I said, the circumstances are different. We will do everything we can to celebrate the athletes in both cases. I think we'll do both in Paris, that's our hope, and be able to really leverage and utilize an environment that holds the Olympic spirit. There's no circumstance in which we can get the moment back that they deserved, but what we have to do is our very best to give them a moment that honors the accomplishment and the achievement that they deserve, and we'll do that.

If we can do all of them in Paris, that's our plan. We're going to have a heck of a lot of folks there who are pretty excited about the Olympic and Paralympic Games at that point in time. It's going to be a great celebratory environment and as I said, I don't think any of us believe that it's a replacement, but it's a nice opportunity to really celebrate those athletes. And so we're hoping to do both the reallocations and the award for the figure skating team.

Operator:

Thank you. That concludes the question and answer portion of today's call. So I'd like to turn the call back over to Kate for any additional or closing remarks.

Kate Hartman:

Thanks Chelsea, and thank you everyone for joining us today. As always, the recording of this transcript will be available on teamusa.org\media as soon as we receive it, probably by tomorrow afternoon. And before we sign off, I look forward to seeing so many of you at the 2024 Team USA Media Summit from April 14th to 17th in New York. It's going to be an awesome event. We're closing in on just about 100 confirmed athletes, 100 hopefuls to celebrate 100 days to the Games. Until then, as always, be in touch with questions and per Julie, please go out and get some pie. Thanks all.

Sarah Hirshland:

Thanks everybody.

Gene Sykes:

Bye-bye.

Operator:

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today's program and you may now disconnect.


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