Friday, September 14, 2012

We're the "Best": The Self Congratulatory 2012 Aquatic Sports Convention

This week, the Aquatic Sports Convention descended on Greensboro, NC. From afar, I am concerned with two things: first, the approval of many changes to USA Swimming rules that would help us take another step forward. Second, it's another chance to check USA Swimming leadership: where are they now and where are they telling us they are headed?

The white knight of Colorado Springs is undoubtedly Frank Busch. Busch carries immense respect from the coaching ranks, and has been making the rounds cross country, offering his cell phone number to anyone who will take it as a show of his willingness to listen. Busch is the frontman for the 2013-2016 quad plan, although as he has done in many public appearances, he shies away from getting into too many precise details. Much of the attention around the quad plan is focused on changing the qualifying standards for "elite" meets, including Grand Prix but most importantly the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Count me as one definitely in favor of a big tightening of standards at both these meets. I coached a number of qualifiers to OTs that likely would have been left out with a faster standard, but the meet was far too large. Likewise, Grand Prix meets had become a necessary evil for many coaches- overcrowded and diluting the excitement of top level performance with overly long sessions. However, I do wonder if we're all going to be happy if half as many qualifiers show up to the 2016 Trials with a bigger venue and the stands are half full for finals.

I can't say I feel the same way about the "Safe Sport" part of USA Swimming. Granted, its far easier for Busch to maintain popularity while he is in a leadership position over the most overwhelmingly positive part of USA Swimming, especially coming off a beat down of the rest of the world at the 2012 Olympics. Safe Sport Director Susan Woessner and Emperor for Life Executive Director Chuck Wielgus released a "Safe Sport Status Report". In it, they confirm the values of "Safe Sport", which in my mind are public relations first and foremost. Unfortunately, all the press releases in the world are going to have a tough time overcoming the debacle that has been their handling of Rick Curl. Despite whatever progress they have made, they have failed to address the central issues:

1. USA Swimming is still run by a leader, Chuck Wielgus, who claims to have been caught completely off guard by the problem of sexual abuse within swimming, despite all the glaring warning signs that it was

2. A near complete media blackout that only fuels further mistrust of their organization. Although Wielgus and Woessner have made personal efforts to communicate with this blog, they have consistently sought to set preconditions for any discussion and their communication with other media outlets has been entirely in the form of press releases, or press releases dishonestly presented as "interviews".

3. Nearly three years after mainstream press coverage started to unearth some of the ugliest offenders, USA Swimming is still getting caught very flat-footed, as Rick Curl shows. The fact that it appears that Rick Curl has far more power than his victim is troubling.

4. The "inner circle", the most powerful people in swimming in the United States, remains largely unchanged. Among them (not real quotes, I am paraphrasing):

Chuck "lets keep this confidential" Wielgus

Pat "I spontaneously developed a romantic relationship with an 18 year old girl that had been swimming for me when I was 29 years old" and "Sure, Everett, do you need a job recommendation?" Hogan

Mike "USA Swimming is the victim in all of this" Unger

John "Paul Bergen, Mitch Ivey, and Rick Curl are my friends" Leonard

How can we really move forward with this leadership, especially when none of the above are really willing to apologize and fairly account for their actions?


  1. Don't forget about Will Colebank, USA Swimming's Culb Development guy before Hogan. Child porn and exploitation. He couldn't attend the convention from his jail cell.

  2. How about the reference to the song "Turn, Turn, Turn!"

    That's been going on for years by the people who have the power to hold others accountable - Pretend you don't see any abuses by turning the other way!

    1. OMG - some team should make a video. PLEASE!!!

  3. Same old same old. Will this be worse then the Catholic Church scandal or the boy scouts or Penn State? I believe it will be. Nobody is accountable for anything. Sad