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U.S. speedskating back on track after year of turmoil

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 21 2013 4:45 p.m. MDT

Also, Cho’s case was given to the sport’s international governing body, and after a June hearing, there is still no resolution or decision regarding Cho’s actions or allegations.

Dydek said the team struggled earlier but settled down near the end of the season, even though other issues continued to dog the organization.

Long-track skater Patrick Meek said the situation affected those outside the short-track program, as well.

“I remember distinctly being overseas this past spring, and we were waking up every morning to a new news article about our organization,” he said. “It didn’t matter that it wasn’t about us. It was about our organization and about our brothers and sisters on the short-track side, and that’s hard to hear.” It was the lack of clear resolutions that bothered athletes most.

“Whether you’re in a sports organization or a company, if there is uncertainty at the top, it trickles down,” he said. “Luckily we have a guy like Mike Plant in charge now. He’s taken over and pushed out some of these guys who weren’t in it for the right reasons.”

An instrument of change

Plant said it was the steady stream of scandal stories that changed his mind about wading into the mess.

“What hit home for me was it’s a sport with an unbelievable legacy,” he said, rattling off the names of Olympic icons who’ve gone on to impressive sports, business and humanitarian accomplishments. “I saw all of that kind of being torn down very quickly.”

So he took on the job with one requirement — he would be the board’s president. And almost immediately, he began making waves, telling advisory committees and board members that no one was allowed to give the staff direction anymore except him.

“We had teammates treating each other like competitors,” he said, noting it took him nine weeks to overhaul the organization. “I told (the staff and board), ‘I’ll do the blocking and tackling, but I need your support.’ It’s going to take some resolve and not everyone will like it. … I spoke to 60 people in that first week. I wanted to understand their experiences.”

The best illustration of the situation Plant inherited was what he saw on a whiteboard at the speedskating headquarters in Kearns.

“I saw 36 complaints, grievances and code of conduct violations,” Plant said. “That’s dysfunctional; that’s disrespectful.” The Atlanta Braves vice president, who has spent decades in volunteer administrative roles with USA cycling and the USOC, began dealing with the problems himself while making plans to overhaul the way the body operated. He streamlined the board and made the various committees advisory and not authoritative. Decisions, he said, should be made by staff hired for their expertise, and they, in turn, will be held accountable for those decisions.

In May, the board of directors adopted sweeping new bylaws, and shortly afterward, embattled executive director Mark Greenwald resigned. The changes were aimed at preventing the volunteer board members from interfering with the organization's daily operations.

Jayner and Dudek said the changes have given them hope.

“I think the board has gone a long way with their restructuring,” Jayner said. “I think athletes in the future will be much better off.”

But not all athletes see much impact from the changes, in part because they’re still somewhat separated from the national racing program.

Smith said the most difficult aspect of the way last year’s problems were handled was that she was suddenly without the coach who’d helped her find results in the sport she’d dedicated her life to since 2008.

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