USOC chief Scherr says American team deserves B-plus

Saturday, February 25, 2006

TURIN, Italy -- Jim Scherr's report card for the U.S. Olympic team looks like this: B-plus in performance, something less in behavior.

Bode's bust on the Alpine courses, flops in freestyle and hiccups in hockey were among the disappointments that forced the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee to give the Americans a less-than-perfect grade.

But for each of those letdowns, there were people like skier Ted Ligety, snowboarder Rosey Fletcher and the men's curling team to balance the ledger.

Add it all up and the Americans had 23 medals, including eight golds, through Friday. Both totals ranked one behind Germany for second.

"There are a couple areas where we thought we'd perform better but we didn't," Scherr said Friday. "We just have to go back and work a little harder for Vancouver."

Before the games started, Scherr said the Americans had the potential to match or surpass the record 34 medals from Salt Lake City. He also frequently pointed out that teams competing at an Olympics after their country hosted one traditionally experienced a 41 percent drop.

The U.S. team will do better than that, and still has a chance to win the overall medal count. But other countries, most notably Canada and Russia, are doing better this time. In retrospect, Scherr said the USOC probably had no business shooting for 34 medals.

Asked to grade his team, Scherr handed out the B-plus, "but that could turn into an A-plus because we can still win the gold-medal count and the total-medal count in these games, which would be an incredible feat."

Less impressive were a few off-the-field episodes that made some Americans look petty and unfocused.

The tiff between speedskaters Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick after they won silver and bronze in the men's 1,500 made for great theater. But aren't these guys supposed to be teammates?

Lindsey Jacobellis' hotdog move at the end of snowboardcross cost her a gold medal and sparked a debate about whether these snowboarders understand the true gravitas of the Olympic games -- or whether the so-called Olympic community simply takes itself too seriously.

Bode Miller's poor performance on the slope was matched by some apres-ski activities that didn't look so great -- tweaking his ankle while playing pickup basketball and being spotted late at night at The Irish Igloo, a popular drinking establishment in Sestriere.

Scherr defended Jacobellis and wouldn't get specific about anyone else. He said the USOC needs to do a better job of spelling out what's right and wrong for athletes who come to the Olympics with the name "United States" emblazoned across their chests.

Scherr said the USOC might encourage national governing bodies to use sports psychologists to help athletes prepare for the fishbowl the Winter Olympics have become.

Scherr said television ratings back in the States also were disappointing. NBC's Olympic coverage can't beat "American Idol."

One possible reason for the dwindling audience is that, unlike in 2002, the United States has yet to produce any big stars at these Olympics.

Skier and football star Jeremy Bloom was a bust. Speedskater Apolo Ohno has been under the radar despite winning a bronze medal. And the women's curling team, considered a medal contender coming in, didn't make it to the medal round.

Scherr is confident the U.S. team will be a powerhouse at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, and believes the Chinese push to improve its team

In Turin, the Americans found out that this "was not a games where one country was going to just run away with it," Scherr said. "It's just too difficult competitively."

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