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USOC gets one right: its new communications chief

October 14, 2009 |  9:50 am

Maybe the U.S. Olympic Committee leadership is beginning to get it.

Its choice of an acting chief communications officer shows at least a little comprehension of how particular an entity the USOC is -- and that skills in one area may not necessarily work in the Olympic arena.

The danger was that the USOC would hire another person from a corporate background who would need months just to digest the alphabet soup of acronyms in Olympic business.

Instead, the USOC announced today that it has chosen Patrick Sandusky, who has spent five years learning about the Olympics -- and learning to love what they can stand for.

Sandusky, a native of Bourbonnais, Ill, spent 18 months heading a team from the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton to promote London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics.

Then he was the chief communications officer for the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid, which many felt was undermined by the fractious relationship between the USOC and the International Olympic Committee. Sandusky brings an understanding of that to the USOC, which means he could be part of a solution that will give future bid cities more of a fighting chance.

The USOC has not had a chief communications officer since Darryl Seibel stepped down in early May.  Acting Chief Executive Stephanie Streeter was getting communications advice from Ari Fleischer, press secretary to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003. That choice of an advisor showed what a tin ear the USOC leadership had about relating to its constituencies and the OIympic world, which generally detested the Bush administration's policies.

(Coincidentally, it also will be announced today that Seibel has a new job: managing partner for communications of a new Colorado Springs, Colo.-based sports, event and entertainment marketing company, 776 Original Marketing. Jim Scherr, forced out in March as USOC chief executive, will be the new company's CEO.)

I got to know Sandusky extremely well over the last three years. We had our disagreements over the Chicago Tribune's coverage of the bid.  But I also came to trust him, even when it was his job to spin a story to the bid committee's advantage.

Sandusky, a football player at Northern Illinois, is a passionate sports fan and a person who loves to explore the world. That kind of perspective can only help the USOC reconnect with an Olympic world that has become suspicious of its every motive.

He has agreed to take the job through the Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

I'm not sure whether he deserves congratulations or condolences. But those of us who cover the USOC and the Olympics can cheer this choice.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Patrick Sandusky, a veteran of two Olympic bids, moves from Chicago to the USOC. Credit: Bonnie Trafelet / Chicago Tribune