US Olympic Committee to take 'hard look' at what led to lowest American medal count in 20 years

A top U.S. Olympic Committee official said Sunday that he would re-evaluate the organization's winter sports program after American athletes won just 23 medals in Pyeongchang, below the committee's minimum expectations.

That haul -- nine gold medals, eight silver medals and six bronze medals -- is the lowest since the U.S. won 13 medals at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

The Associated Press, citing an internal USOC document, reported that the organization had set a target of 37 medals in Pyeongchang, with a minimum expectation of 25. Winning 37 medals would have matched the then-record number won by the U.S. in Vancouver in 2010.

This chart obtained by The Associated Press shows the U.S. Olympic Committee's medal projections for the 2018 Winter Games in a slide presented last year to the USOC board. The USOC targeted 37 medals for Team USA in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (AP Photo)

This chart compiled by the U.S. Olympic Committee shows the organization's medal projections for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The U.S. won 23 medals, two short of the USOC's projected minimum.  (AP)

Alan Ashley, the U.S. Olympic Committee's chief of sport performance, wasn't shirking from the unsettling results.

"We're going to take a hard look at what occurred here," he said Sunday at the USOC's closing news conference.

Ashley was joined by four U.S. medalists, including Lindsey Vonn, who a few days earlier gave an impassioned plea not to judge everything by the numbers of medals collected.

"To quantify it in how many medals you have is not appropriate and doesn't respect the athletes and what they've put in to be in these games," she said.

But Ashley acknowledged there was plenty of room for improvement, and promised to break down what went wrong when he returns home.

"Everything we're responsible for, and everything that is basically under my responsibility, is focused on how to help our top athletes achieve success," he said. "I'm accountable for that, and I'm not going to shy away from that."

He also said he derived hope from the 35 athletes who finished fourth through sixth over the two-plus weeks in South Korea.

"It's not as though we were in these situations where you're saying, 'Oh, we're going to do this great achievement,' and then we were 20th, 40th, 70th, whatever,"' he said.

But the Pyeongchang results are even more disappointing in light of the new sports that have been added to the Olympic program over the past two decades.

Eleven of the 23 U.S. medals came from snowboarding and freestyle skiing, events that were added beginning in 1992 and have played a large part in a near doubling of medals up for grabs at the games. Many of the newer events are skewed toward North American athletes, and it's no surprise that the U.S. started vaulting up the medals table in 2002, when it won 34, buoyed by a U.S. sweep on the men's halfpipe in Park City.

That year, Team USA took 14.5 percent of the medals available.

This year, it took 7.5 percent.

The U.S. finished with 12 medals in events other than freestyle and snowboarding. That's one fewer than in 1998, but still double the total of six American medals won at the Calgary Winter Olympics of 1988. After those games, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who was vice chairman of the USOC, issued a report that called for the federation to focus more on winning medals.

These days, the USOC spends more than $60 million during an Olympic cycle to support winter athletes and their sports organizations. Since Ashley took over, more emphasis has been placed on funneling the money more toward sports that have medal hopes as opposed to developing pipelines for less-successful sports to grow.

Ashley said he'll look at everything, including seeing what the USOC might emulate from countries that have had more success this year. Norway closed with 39 medals, a new Winter Olympics record. Germany had 31, and Canada, which started its "Own the Podium" program before the Vancouver Games, had 29.

All are helped with funding from their government. The USOC is not.

"I want to help our athletes achieve everything they're capable of," Ashley said. "We come here to compete. Everyone can do predictions. And if we just live with predictions, then I guess we don't need to go to the Olympics."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.