Sandusky’s Olympics career heads into thin air

Today’s Wisch List column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

Sandusky’s Olympics career heads into thin air


Jan. 30, 2010

COLORADO SPRINGS – It’s been four months since Chicago 2016 packed up its ball and trudged home from Copenhagen a stunned Olympics loser, but Pat Sandusky is still playing Games.

It’s just not the ones that he originally imagined.

“It was very disappointing,” Sandusky, a Bourbonnais native and the former spokesman for Chicago 2016, said about the city’s failed Summer Olympics bid, which in October finished a shocking fourth in IOC voting behind Madrid, Tokyo and winner Rio de Janeiro. “I think as I’ve had time to process it and look back on it, though, there’s nothing we could have done differently. It was just the time to go to South America.

“It was no shortfall of Chicago or the USOC. It was just a great bid and campaign by Rio. Once they proved their economy was strong enough and that they could pull it off, that was it. It’s a world-changing type of event, having the Games in South America [for the first time], like it was having the [2008 Summer] Games in China.

“I feel more comfortable now, looking back.”

In large part, that’s because Sandusky now has so much to look forward to.

Just two weeks after the IOC decision in Denmark, Sandusky was named the acting chief communications officer for the United States Olympic Committee and began focusing his energies on helping the USOC prep for next month’s 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

On Friday night, Sandusky informed me via text message that he is removing the “acting” from his job title and has accepted a full-time position as the USOC’s chief communications officer. Sandusky said he will be moving his family to Colorado Springs, were the USOC is based.

Last week, while out in Colorado on business, I got the opportunity to pop in on my former Pony League teammate at his office on the campus of the U.S. Olympic Complex, which once was the home of ENT Air Force Base and the North American Defense Command (NORAD) before being transformed into the USOC headquarters in 1978.

Tucked in the heart of Colorado Springs with a snow-capped Pikes Peak looming in the distance, the unassuming compound features a sports medicine and sport science center along with an athlete center that includes two residence halls and a dining hall, where “you’ll find a lot of carbs, a lot of protein,” Sandusky said with a chuckle.

On the menu last week: roast turkey, pasta with roasted winter squash and North Woods bean soup – all featuring detailed nutritional information for the calorie-conscious Olympian.

At the complex, the USOC is able to provide housing, dining, recreational facilities and other services for up to 557 coaches and athletes at one time. Sandusky said about 200 athletes – most of them Summer Olympians – are full-time residents at the training site.

Since assuming his role with the USOC, Sandusky has been busy helping the USOC buff a reputation that has long been hounded by accusations of being more interested in making money and winning medals than goodwill.

“So far, things have been good,” Sandusky said. “We’ve made positive headway on the media side of things … And, hopefully, we’ll do quite well and get that pride restored.”

He’s also been busy preparing for the Winter Games, which begin Feb. 12 when just over 200 American athletes will gather with thousands more from around the globe as the Opening Ceremonies kick off in British Columbia.

“It’s a different kind of busy,” Sandusky said, comparing his duties with Chicago 2016 to those with the USOC, where he oversees a media and public relations team of about 20. “It’s similar, but a slightly different pace because [with the USOC] it’s longer term and a broader organization.

“Even if Chicago had won the games, that would have ended in 2016. Here, we’re looking at the short-term and the long term, 25 to 35 years out.”

In Vancouver, Sandusky will fill the role of head communicator for the U.S. delegation, managing daily press conferences dealing with news and events on the fly.

“When things happen, whether positively or negatively, it’s my job to help massage the message,” he explained.

With the U.S. having finished behind only Germany in total medals won at both the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, Sandusky hopes to have plenty of positive news to talk about. Considering that NBC is spreading 835 hours over coverage over five networks and its Olympic Web site – more broadcast hours than the last two Winter Games combined – there will certainly be no shortage of people watching.

From everywhere.

Consider this: On the promenade at the U.S. Olympic Complex, colorful flags line the sidewalk from all 205 Olympic member nations. That tally numbers 13 more than even the United Nations.

“That’s what’s so great about working with the Olympics,” Sandusky said. “It’s a global movement. And once you get down to the games, very little of it’s about politics. It’s all about focusing on sport.”

And with that, Game on.