Even though they're under pressure to find a sports director for the 2002 Winter Games fast, leaders of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee have ruled out a leading candidate.

Steve Hatchell, who is on his way out as commissioner of the Big 12 Athletic Conference amid allegations of workplace harassment, is no longer being considered for the SLOC job."It was unfortunate that certain things came out in the media which we weren't aware of," SLOC Chief Executive Officer Frank Joklik told reporters Wednesday at an International Olympic Committee meeting in Sydney, Australia.

"The issue is pretty well closed," Joklik said at a press briefing that followed a presentation to the IOC. "There are other attractive candidates, and we are confident the position will be filled in the near future."

That's likely to be before the end of June, when the IOC coordination commission responsible for overseeing preparations for the 2002 Winter Games meets in Salt Lake City.

IOC Vice President Marc Hodler, who heads the coordination commission, told the Associated Press that "we have found out various possibilities are under scrutiny and we have been assured some proposals will be made in June."

Salt Lake organizers were told earlier this year to get moving on key hires, especially in the area of sports. The sports director will organize competitions in the 68 medal events scheduled so far.

Discussions are under way with international sports officials to add the sport of skeleton - a kind of head-first sledding competition - to the program, as well as women's bobsled.

The competition schedule should be submitted to the IOC in December. Ticket sales could begin in October 2000, SLOC Senior Vice President of Games Dave Johnson told the Associated Press.

Joklik said in Sydney that he told members of the IOC Executive Board during the closed-door presentation that the overhaul of the organizing committee's $1 billion-plus budget should be finished in September.

Joklik also said SLOC hopes to unveil the mascot for the 2002 Winter Games in June, possibly during the next meeting of the IOC Executive Board in Seville, Spain.

At one time, organizers had considered introducing the mascot during Salt Lake City's brief production during the closing ceremonies of the 1998 Winter Games last February in Nagano, Japan.

But they hadn't yet decided exactly what creature - or creatures - should be chosen to represent the Games. The choice is critical because organizers are counting on making millions of dollars from sales of mascot merchandise.

Stuffed versions of Nagano's Olympic mascots, the four owl-like creatures known as the "Snowlets," sold out during the Winter Games. Even "Izzy," the computer-generated mascot of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, sold well.