Cathy Priestner Allinger got a promotion Friday that may have made her the first woman ever put in charge of running the sports program for an Olympic Games.
Allinger, Olympic medalist in speed-skating for her home country of Canada, was named managing director of sports for the 2002 Winter Games by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.She will be responsible for putting on the largest sports program ever for a Winter Games, a total of 70 events in 14 disciplines. She will also oversee competitions for disabled athletes in the 2002 Paralympic Winter Games.
No one at SLOC could say for certain Friday that Allinger was the first woman to hold an Olympic sports director's job, but she and others said they'd been told that was the case.
Allinger started at SLOC a little over a year ago as the director of ice sports. In March, she also assumed the role of acting sports director while a national search to fill the job was under way.
Olympic organizers have been under pressure for some time from the International Olympic Committee to make the hire. IOC officials had said they expected someone named by last June.
But there were problems. Earlier this year SLOC had to rule out a leading candidate, the former commissioner of the Big 12 Athletic Conference, after allegations of workplace harassment surfaced in the media.
And there was concern that some international sports officials might not be ready to accept a woman overseeing Olympic events. That's not something Allinger is worrying about, though.
"Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and challenges. In this industry that might be seen as a challenge," she said. "I'm not concerned about there being a negative response to me because I am female."
The IOC is pleased with the choice. "We are delighted that SLOC has selected Cathy Priestner Allinger," Gilbert Felli, the IOC's sports director, said.
"She has the full support of the IOC. We are confident she will do a fantastic job in this position," Felli said in a statement issued by the organizing committee.
SLOC Chief Executive Officer Frank Joklik said Allinger is "an ideal fit for heading up sports," citing her background as an Olympian and a venue manager at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Canada.
"The search has been going on for some time as you know, and I haven't seen anybody as capable," Joklik said of Allinger. He praised her for helping to hire several new sports managers, including four Olympic athletes.
Allinger became the first woman in Canada to win an Olympic medal in speed-skating when she took the silver in the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria. She also competed in the 1972 Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan.
Before joining SLOC in August 1997, Allinger was the associate director of athletics at the University of Calgary and general manager of the Olympic speed-skating oval in Calgary. She was the manager of the oval during the Olympics.
Allinger recently resigned after 10 years as a commentator with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., including coverage of speed-skating during the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.