USOC taps former CEO Blackmun as leader

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By Ben Klayman

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) on Wednesday named a former executive to lead the organization, seen by many critics as arrogant and out of touch with the rest of the sports world.

Scott Blackmun, a 52-year-old Colorado lawyer who formerly served as general counsel and interim chief executive for the USOC, was named CEO as expected.

Blackmun will take over on January 26 from acting CEO Stephanie Streeter, who was not under consideration for the position, and become the third USOC CEO in the last 10 months.

"We're thrilled to have him back," USOC Chairman Larry Probst said at a press conference. "We're committed to improving our relationship with the IOC and the international constituencies (and) also to making sure that we're fully engaged with all of the stakeholders domestically."

Five days after Chicago's surprising elimination in the first round of voting in October to choose the host city for the 2016 Summer Games, the USOC launched a search for a new CEO. Some critics also had called for Probst to step down, but he repeated on Wednesday that he has no plans to leave.

Blackmun faces the daunting challenge of polishing the USOC's tarnished image and easing a strained relationship with the International Olympic Committee. Many have said that relationship must improve if the United States hopes again to host an Olympic games.

The USOC has been locked in a bitter dispute for years with the IOC over its share of revenue from U.S. TV rights deals and global sponsorship agreements.

The USOC raised tensions further last summer when it announced plans for an Olympic TV network without consulting the IOC. After an angry response from the IOC, the plans were put on hold.

U.S. and international Olympic officials have said both disputes contributed to Chicago's crushing defeat in its bid to land the 2016 games. Blackmun, however, said Rio de Janeiro was destined to win that vote and did not blame the loss on the USOC.

Critics have complained leadership at the USOC, which had a 2008 budget of $280 million, was out of touch and unable to build key relationships and partnerships that have left the United States increasingly isolated. Blackmun said that has to change.

"We need to make the effort to go over and visit with them, to spend time with them, not only with the IOC but the international federations and with the people who are otherwise influential in sport in the world," he said. "I don't think we've invested that kind of time at the senior leadership level to the extent that we could have."

Blackmun, a resident of Colorado Springs, Colorado, joins the USOC from the law firm of Holme Roberts & Owen. From 2002 to 2006, he was chief operating officer of Anschutz Entertainment Group in Los Angeles, overseeing operations for the sports and events company.

Blackmun, who signed a four-year deal with a starting annual base salary of $450,000, returns to the USOC where he previously spent three years, including serving as acting CEO from November 2000 to October 2001. He first joined the USOC in September 1998.

(Editing by Maureen Bavdek and Steve Orlofsky)