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Slow, Steady And Big-Picture Right-On

By Alan Abrahamson | Nov. 09, 2012, 11 a.m. (ET)

athlete career programme 2012 in Lake Placid, New York
The International Olympic Committee's 6th Annual Athlete Career Programme Forum in Lake Placid, New York.

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- On the calendar of big happenings, the International Olympic Committee's sixth Athlete Career Program is not strike-up-the-band sort of stuff.


And yet -- that it got underway here Thursday is, in a way, noteworthy indeed.


For it's the big picture that counts.


It marked the first time this forum had ever been held outside the IOC's Lausanne, Switzerland, base. And in concert with other recent conferences, it underscored the U.S. Olympic Committee's slow but steady effort at relationship building -- the strategy its senior leadership has for nearly three years now not just talked but walked to make plain that the USOC is, indeed and in deed, a good partner for the IOC and, beyond, the wider Olympic movement.


Ultimately, of course, the USOC would intend to leverage that goodwill in bidding again for the Games -- most probably for the 2024 summer Games. It has appointed a committee to study whether to bid for the 2024 or 2026 Winter Games; an initial report is forthcoming next month.


A bid, though, and all it entails, is yet a long way off. The IOC would not select the 2024 summer Games, for instance, until 2017.


For now, the work is in lower-key efforts such as the program here -- a forum aimed at answering the question that seems obvious but too often isn't until it abruptly dawns on an athlete at the end of his or her competitive career: now what am I going to do?


If, the IOC reasons, a structure is in place so that athletes can be thinking about that question in advance, and HR officers at major employers have it in mind that athletes are way more than dumb jocks and can bring something extra to the corporate arena, then that's worth promoting -- which it has been doing through Adecco, the Zurich-based concern, since 2005.


Through the end of 2011, according to the IOC and Adecco, the program had reached out to 8,000 athletes on five continents with training opportunities and job placements.


On hand in Lake Placid were some two dozen Adecco managers from around the world. The conference coincided with the first World Cup stop of the bobsled, skeleton and luge season --  a potential recruit base, of course. 


"We can learn, we can share and we can also feel the Olympic spirit in what we are doing," said Patrick Glennon, Adecco's senior vice president for the IOC program. 


Also on hand: at least five members of the IOC's athlete commission, including Claudia Bokel of Germany, considered by many a rising IOC star.


"It's the first time we have gone outside Lausanne," she said, a reference to the five prior career programs. "If we want to do outreach activities, we want to see different places in the world."


That sort of outreach has been a USOC hallmark since the start of 2010 -- when Larry Probst, the USOC chairman, and Scott Blackmun, the chief executive, started up as a team.


Three months before, Chicago had gotten thumped in the race for the 2016 summer Games, Rio de Janeiro winning big. Thereupon the Americans realized they had to reframe their approach, concentrating first on relationship-building and then on resolving a longstanding revenue dispute with the IOC.


The revenue dispute -- which, understandably, drew big headlines -- got solved earlier this year.


In the meantime, quietly, the USOC has also been trying to play host to IOC and related conferences in a way that almost never happened in the years before. 


Even before the 2010 change, the IOC came to Denver for an executive board meeting -- albeit in conjunction with the 2009 SportAccord conference, which was highlighted by politicking aimed at the 2016 summer Games vote then just seven months away.


Since then, meanwhile, in October, 2011, the IOC's fifth "International Athletes' Forum" came to Colorado Springs. This past February, Los Angeles was the site of the IOC’s "Women and Sport" conference.


Now this Lake Placid session.


Later this month, in Miami, there will be a best practices symposium for north and south American national Olympic Committees, along with a Pan-American Sports Organization executive committee meeting. Some 125 people are expected to attend.


In the same way that the USOC is not running the meeting here, it's not going to run the meeting in Miami. When you're genuinely part of a community -- in this case, the so-called "Olympic family" -- sometimes you simply open the door to the house and have a meeting, even if someone else is running it at your dining-room table. It's that elemental.


"It's just a mindset that we are one of 205 NOCs," Chris Sullivan, a senior USOC official, said here. "We are here to do our part."