Leadership at the U.S. national governing bodies

This winter, the United States is sending 223 athletes to Beijing to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics. About half of those Olympians departed from Los Angeles on Jan. 27 aboard an unprecedented charter flight operated by new Team USA sponsor Delta Air Lines. And while the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee has overseen travel logistics, which include shepherding the rest of Team USA to China on additional flights from L.A. and other cities around the world, much of the responsibility for preparing the nation’s elite athletes for the Beijing Games falls to sport-specific national governing bodies. COVID-related restrictions have forced those organizations to strip back their delegations, leaving behind marketing and hospitality staffers who would normally travel to the Games. Executives at the helm of these critical organizations are tasked with leading through one of the most logistically challenging events in sports history.

Sophie Goldschmidt

President and CEO, U.S. Ski & Snowboard

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Ski & Snowboard will send about 70 athletes to Beijing, accounting for roughly one-third of Team USA, and is traditionally responsible for bringing home around 70% of the nation’s medals from the Winter Games. As with many NGBs, the expectation is that elite-level success will help drive grassroots interest, and Goldschmidt aims to amplify that impact with new strategies around content distribution with Olympics broadcaster NBC and others.

“We’ll be utilizing content on our social platforms, and we’ll be working with some media partners that haven’t been announced yet,” said Goldschmidt. “This is a big moment and opportunity to reach new fans, so we do want to explore utilizing different platforms out there that can help us tell the story to these new audiences.”

USSA named Goldschmidt to the organization’s top executive position in September, accelerating the original plan to replace longtime President and CEO Tiger Shaw after the conclusion of the Beijing Games. Goldschmidt said her early months on the job have largely been spent listening and learning, though she has some clear ideas for the NGB beyond Beijing.

Looking ahead, Goldschmidt pointed to technology innovation, specifically as a tool for athlete performance, and unfilled sponsor categories as “clean slates” the organization can take advantage of. Another shift in strategy will be putting more emphasis on non-Olympic events. “I want us to be not quite so just focused on the Olympics. While it’s an incredibly important moment every four years, we do have a lot more that can measure success and really deliver excellence,” said Goldschmidt. “I think it’s not going to be a strategic revolution, but it is an evolution.”

Pat Kelleher

Executive Director, USA Hockey

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The Beijing Games pose an unprecedented logistical challenge to all of the nation’s winter NGBs, but only USA Hockey had to rebuild an entire men’s team just six weeks out from the opening ceremony after the NHL backed out of the Games, citing the need to make up games lost to the pandemic during the planned Olympic break.

“It forced us to pivot pretty quickly, and fortunately our staff was ready in case we had to,” said Kelleher, who oversaw the process of reestablishing team leadership and getting 25 new players up and running, from providing equipment to scheduling COVID-19 testing and travel to registering with governing bodies like USADA and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

Kelleher, who joined USA Hockey in 2000 and has been the executive director of the NGB and its foundation since 2017, is open about his high expectations for the on-ice performance in Beijing. “We think we can put three teams together capable of winning gold medals. On the women’s side and sled side, it’s been obvious that we’re there,” said Kelleher. “And we’re not putting a [men’s] team together just to participate. The team we’ve built is young, hungry and fast.” Strong performances are seen as a critical driver for growing participation in the game.

“We’re trying to come back from losing about 20% of our playing population with the pandemic, and we’ve gotten back to where we’re about 5% ahead of where we thought we’d be,” said Kelleher. “We think the impact of the Olympics will be huge, and we think the impact of some gold medals would be even bigger.”

Ramsey Baker

Executive Director, U.S. Figure Skating

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Baker has been with Figure Skating since 2005, but Beijing will mark his first Games in the organization’s lead role after taking over from former Executive Director David Raith, initially on an interim basis in December 2020 and then officially as of last July.

Baker will kick off these Winter Games in the San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla, where Figure Skating will host Olympic skaters’ friends and families during the team event, before then departing for Beijing to take over on-the-ground duties from board President Anne Cammett.

According to Baker, that family event has strategic value, since athlete surveys indicate that family concerns have been an impediment to on-ice success. “We hope that correlates to athletes saying to themselves, ‘I don’t have to worry about them because U.S. Figure Skating is taking care of them. So I know they’re having a good time and being taken care of, and I can be focused on what I have to do here,’” said Baker.

The organization is carrying strong momentum into Beijing, with over $6 million in sponsorship sales last year — the NGB’s highest mark in 15 years — and Learn to Skate programming on pace to reach record participation. Per Baker, the organization has also prioritized DEI initiatives to ensure the organization can maximize the benefits of surging popularity during the Beijing Games: “We want to make sure we’re casting our voice much further and wider than it’s ever been cast before to try to bring people into the sport.”

The rest of Team USA

USA Curling: Curling is among the Winter Games’ most popular disciplines, and USA Curling CEO Jeff Plush, who took over the NGB in 2020, is the latest to spearhead efforts to make the sport broadly relevant outside of the Olympics. Plush said the organization has worked with local clubs to help them prepare to capitalize on the upcoming increased attention, and next on the docket is finding new exposure on a national level. “On both the national team side and from a bigger visibility side, clearly we need more and broader media reach on our other events,” said Plush. “We’re looking for the right home for our media platform for the next four years, which is our biggest priority coming out of the Games.”

US Biathlon: President and CEO Max Cobb has been with the national governing body for over three decades, first joining in 1989 as head of the NGB’s domestic race series. He assumed the top role in 2010, and in Beijing he’ll continue to lead the chase for Team USA’s first medal in the sport.

USA Bobsled & Skeleton: CEO Aron McGuire is yet another top NGB executive heading into his first Winter Games, having taken over the role in 2020.

The former USA Bobsled national team member previously held positions directing USA Track & Field’s international teams and overseeing the USOPC’s training centers.

USA Luge: Jim Leahy, who took over as CEO in 2013, previously held roles with teams across the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS throughout a sports business career stretching back to 1981. USA Luge is coming off winning its first men’s and women’s singles medals in 2018 and 2014, respectively.

US Speedskating: The Salt Lake City-based NGB is led by Executive Director Ted Morris, who took over in 2013 after a run at Van Wagner and a dozen years in marketing at U.S. Ski & Snowboard. In Beijing, the NGB will have potential breakout stars in Erin Jackson, Maame Biney and Kristen Santos.






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