SOCHI 2014

Planting A New Seed

By Karen Rosen | March 25, 2013, 9:50 a.m. (ET)
 
U.S. Olympic Committee chef de mission Mike Plant, USOC board chairman Larry Probst and USOC CEO Scott Blackmun congratulate the Vancouver Olympic athletes during the opening reception for the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team in Washington, D.C., celebration at the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards on April 20, 2010, in Baltimore, Md.

Mike Plant is off to a fast start as US Speedskating’s new leader entrusted with getting the national governing body back on track before the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Plant, a well-known sports executive who last week was appointed president of the federation’s board of directors, immediately began scheduling phone conversations with constituents — including athletes — and spent this past weekend in Utah meeting with senior staff. Plant takes over the 14-person Board and is expected to be confirmed as President at the spring board meeting this May.

“I need to get a feel for what’s at the root of a lot of the discontent here,” said Plant, a 1980 Olympian in speedskating who was chef de mission of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team in Vancouver. “I’ve read a lot, but I need to listen a little bit.

“At the same time, I need to add a parallel track to that and start taking some action, which I’ve done as well.”

US Speedskating’s troubles include grievances filed by athletes regarding the federation’s management and allegations of physical abuse by a former short track national coach. Amid that turmoil, Andy Gabel, an Olympic medalist and former president of the organization, was accused of improper sexual relationships with underage athletes.

A group of athletes also filed a complaint to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which grew increasingly concerned, especially after the U.S. short track team failed to win a World Championships medal for the first time since 2004. Scott Blackmun, the Chief Executive Officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee, who had been discussing the sport’s status with Plant for several months, backed his move onto the board, which is a volunteer position.

“You get to a point in situations like this where you need some new leadership, maybe a little different style,” Plant said, “and my style is I think I’m fair, but I’m tough and I basically know what the marching orders are.”

He has already started focusing on governance and management reform as well as athlete support, with the ultimate goal of building successful short track and long track Olympic teams.

“We’re going to hit it hard and fast and furious,” Plant said, “and I think we’re going to come out with some wholesale changes that are going to be positive for the whole future of the sport, including the athletes that are part of it.”

Plant, whose full-time job is executive vice president of the Atlanta Braves responsible for business operations, has a wide background as a sports leader. He has served as a member of the USOC Board of Directors, Executive Director of USA Canoe/Kayak and associate executive director and president of USA Cycling. He also was a member of the board of directors of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and president of the Goodwill Games.

Plant is one of the rare U.S. representatives at the highest level of global sports, where he is on the management committee for the international cycling federation.

 
Olympian Rowdy Gaines (L) introduces USOC board member Mike Plant
during the 100 Days to Vancouver Celebration on November 4, 2009
at the Rockefeller Center in New York City.

A Wisconsin native, Plant kept up with speedskating over the years through thick and thin ice. He wanted to get involved now he said, "because this sport has a great legacy and has a great tradition of being successful on the field of play.”

He will take a hard look at not only the elite athlete program, but also the pipeline.

“We provide athletes with financial support, services, coaching, science, technology, code of conducts, trials — anything that touches them, let’s make sure that it’s really working properly,” Plant said. “Over the last year, even looking back over the last 10 years, there were pieces that weren’t working properly.”

He said he has read the athlete grievances. “I plan to deal with them accordingly.”

Plant, along with US Speedskating executive director Mark Greenwald and other officials, planned to build an action plan of responsibilities and timelines that they will then execute.

Plant said the organization’s financial situation is not as dire as it was when the most recent figures reported from May 2012 showed a substantial deficit.

With Opening Day for the Atlanta Braves one week away, Plant has a lot on his plate. He said the team supports his new endeavor.

“I put a lot of 18-19 hours days in,” Plant said. “I know how to multitask, pretty well.

“The big thing for me is I don’t play any instruments any more, but I just need to make sure the band sounds good.”

Karen Rosen is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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