Track stars could get bonuses for top performances

Updated: March 8, 2009, 12:07 PM ET
Associated Press

The CEO of USA Track and Field recommended paying athletes $15,000 for setting a personal best at the Olympics, along with shortening trials for the games, as two ways of improving the team's performance after a disappointing effort in Beijing.

Doug Logan responded Sunday to an unflattering 69-page report issued last month by a panel that examined the federation's problems after the United States won only seven gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

The introduction to his response was every bit as scathing as the report itself. He said the failures in Beijing were no mere blip or aberration but were instead proof that validates "the unease felt by many" in American track circles.

"This is an institution afflicted by sclerotic thinking, lethargic planning and archaic practices," he wrote. "We have adopted an argot of nonsensical truisms that do little to develop athletic excellence. We have overlapping, duplicative committees and panels that instead of stimulating creative results, actually stifle progress and promote bastions of false power."

Logan, who already has streamlined the USATF's governance structure, agreed with most of the recommendations and was presenting his response to the new, 15-person board Sunday at its meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Some of his recommendations will need board approval to be implemented.

Logan said the most troubling element of last year's Olympics was that only 13.7 percent of American performances in Beijing were season-bests. The task force found many reasons for this, including athletes who pack their schedules too full between trials and the Olympics, in hopes of cashing in on their status as Olympians.

To return the emphasis to peak performance at the Olympics, Logan recommended paying $15,000 to those who hit personal bests at the games and $5,000 to those who hit their high mark of the season. Should those athletes medal, those bonuses would presumably be in addition to awards the U.S. Olympic Committee already hands out -- $25,000 to gold-medal winners, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze.

He wants the Americans to improve from the 23 medals they won in Beijing to 30 at the London Games in 2012, and wants to explore a summer-long European training camp -- maybe in conjunction with other sports and the USOC -- as a way of reaching that goal.

"We have to do more to support and cultivate our talent, but it is undoubtedly there," he said. "Thirty medals may sound like an overly aggressive goal, but it is well within the abilities of our athletes to achieve."

The task force also recommended a revamping of Olympic trials, which last year included eight days of competition with two days off in the middle. Many athletes thought that was too much time, too many heats and too great a financial expense.

Logan agreed, suggesting six days of competition over back-to-back weekends.

"There appears to be little scientific evidence to argue for either a longer or shorter Trials," Logan wrote. "Ultimately, it comes down to what best serves our athletes and produces a team that will best perform at the Olympic Games."

Logan signed off on hiring a general manager -- to be called the Managing Director of Competition -- who will have an annual budget of up to $225,000 (including salary and benefits) and will have ultimate responsibility for the U.S. performance on the field.

He also wants to revamp the way the USATF coaching and training staff is selected -- an endeavor that almost certainly will be a political minefield in a sport with so many coaches and opinions.

He applauded the task force for addressing the sport's biggest problem, doping, and said he will institute a more stringent reinstatement system for those accused of cheating.

Logan said he liked the task force idea of a "rehab" program for athletes who have cheated but didn't think it was feasible.

He wants to create a mechanism for athletes who have been caught to benefit from showing contrition and willingness to change their ways, though he didn't spell out specifics. That, too, will be a difficult task, and some of those efforts might duplicate systems already in place at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Logan didn't agree with the recommendation to start an athlete's union, saying the USATF wasn't the right place to organize that, but he did say the sport should produce more multimillion-dollar athletes than it currently does.

He talked about Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who recently signed a five-year apparel contract worth a reported $7.5 million.

"We as a federation can learn from Ms. Isinbayeva: Know what your value is, and go find somebody who will pay it," Logan wrote.

If all Logan's recommendations were implemented, he estimated it would cost around $500,000 in 2009. The budget also would include savings from things such as disbanding the ineffectual national relay program, but would not include up to $400,000 for the personal performance awards, which are targeted for the Olympics in 2012.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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