USOC chairman wants full investigation before deciding CEO's future

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- In the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, the United States Olympic Committee's traditional pre-Olympic news conference Friday was anything but traditional, with chairman Larry Probst and others parrying questions about the group's culpability while at the same time defending embattled CEO Scott Blackmun.

Probst began the 44-minute session apologizing to the survivors of Nassar's abuse and admitting that the Olympic system failed them. He thanked the survivors for their bravery and the judicial system for convicting "the monster who committed these horrible acts."

He also reiterated that the USOC has commissioned Boston-based law firm Ropes & Gray to conduct an independent, transparent investigation into who knew what, when and what they did with that information. He insisted that his group would take appropriate actions based on the findings of that investigation.

As for Blackmun, Probst said he had "served with distinction" since rejoining the organization in 2010, adding: "We think he did what he was supposed to do and did the right thing at every turn." Probst then insisted the investigation would be transparent, public "and whatever actions are required and appropriate from that investigation will be taken by our board."

IOC executive board member Anita DeFrantz echoed Probst's support of Blackmun.

"I've known him for a very long time," she said. "I felt he's done a great job for us and deserves to have everything cleared. I don't know what the investigation will show ... but I'm pretty confident it will show he did a great job."

Blackmun, 60, is not attending these Games after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer in January. He has come under fire in recent weeks for his handling of the scandal. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that USA Gymnastics made Blackmun aware of Nassar in 2015, a year before allegations became public. The USOC responded to those allegations by saying it alerted the FBI in 2015.

On Thursday, a group of former Olympians sent a letter to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce demanding Blackmun resign. Two senators made the same calls last. And two separate House committees announced investigations into the USOC and USA Gymnastics for how they handled the claims.

On Friday, the USOC insisted there would be no personnel changes until the Ropes & Gray investigation is completed. Probst said there was no timetable on when that might be.

"We want them to do the best possible job to get the best possible outcome," he said.

Former Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman has been critical of the USOC's handling of the case and has publicly expressed skepticism that the independent investigation will be just that. She said in an interview with CNN this week that no one from the USOC has even reached out to her in the aftermath of the Nassar scandal.

Probst conceded Friday the organization has taken too long to reach out to gymnasts.

"We are in the process of doing that now," he said.

Nassar, who also worked at Michigan State, had been the national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics from 1996 through September 2015. The former team physician was sentenced to between 40 and 175 years in state prison in January after pleading guilty to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. More than 250 women have accused Nassar of abusing them. Many of them say the abuse occurred when they sought medical treatment from him for their sport-related injuries.

The USOC also has drawn criticism for not being present for the victim statements that current and former Olympic athletes gave in a Michigan courtroom in recent weeks. Probst admitted that was a "mistake," while noting the organization was there for the final sentencing hearing.

"We should have been there," he said. "That was an error of judgement."

The Nassar scandal wasn't the only controversial topic during Friday's session.

Officials were asked if they had a response to speedskater Shani Davis' tweet that Team USA "dishonorably" tossed a coin to decide its flag-bearer for these Games. USOC spokesman Mark Jones explained that the election of the flag-bearer is an athlete-driven process.

He said when the vote for flag-bearer came to a 4-4 tie between Davis and luge racer Erin Hamlin, the pre-approved guidelines said the decision would be made by a coin toss, which Hamlin won.

Also Friday, Probst said the U.S. would not bid for the 2026 Winter Games but will keep its options open for 2030. Probst noted that the financial logistics of hosting the Winter Games two years before Los Angeles hosts the Summer Games would be too complex.

There is a possibility the IOC could award 2026 and 2030 together. Probst says the USOC is prepared to be part of the process if so. Earlier this week, Salt Lake City said it would try to become the American candidate for a 2030 bid. Denver is also considering a bid.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.