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Category: U.S. Olympic Committee

Retirement won't end Angela Ruggiero's hockey feats

FabforumAngela Ruggiero cried the first time she stepped onto the ice at a rink near her Simi Valley home, unable to figure out how to go forward or do anything but fall.

Ruggiero, now 31, grew up to become a four-time Olympic hockey medalist and all-time leader in appearances in a USA hockey jersey. She made some suspicious sniffling sounds Thursday as she discussed her retirement from the U.S. women’s national team, but her tears were understandable -- and likely short-lived, because hockey has given her a gateway to a bright future.

Ruggiero has made a remarkable journey, from frightened 7-year-old to dominant defenseman who parlayed her skills and wits into becoming a powerful figure within the U.S. and International Olympic Committees. Her influence off the ice might be stronger than it has been on it, a key reason she decided to retire now.

“I’m able to give a voice to the athletes around the world -- use my degree for something other than the power play,” she said during a conference call with reporters Thursday. “So it’s exciting.”

Inspired to skate by Wayne Gretzky’s arrival in Los Angeles, Ruggiero began playing hockey in Southern California but quickly outgrew local competition. Her family left California when she was young so she and her brother, Bill, could improve their games. In 2005 they were teammates in a Central Hockey League game, in which she became the first woman to play a position other than goalkeeper in a professional game.

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Philip Hersh: Bellingham leaves USOC a legacy of athlete support

Now that Norm Bellingham has decided to step down on Feb. 11 after 4 1/2 years as chief operating officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee, it would be easy to remember his USOC career only for the outlandish compensation he received as its second-ranking salaried official (to wit: $663,369 in salary and benefits in 2008, $521,436 in 2009) and for his role as point man in Peter Ueberroth's folly, the U.S. Olympic network.

That would be unfair to a man who has given some 15 years of his life -- all but the last 4 1/2 unpaid -- to the Olympic movement in the United States, not including the years of training that led to an Olympic kayak gold medal in 1988.

The best measure of Bellingham's involvement with the USOC is his contribution to the planning that led to a record U.S. medal haul at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Bellingham Bellingham, 46, has been involved since 1988 in athlete development programs, especially in the philosophical change so critical to the excellent U.S. results over the last decade.

For years, athlete funding was done on a short-term basis. Bellingham was among those who realized the investment had to be longer and had to focus on sports that had a good chance of delivering medals.

The initial impetus for the change, Bellingham said in Vancouver, was a "respectable medal total'' at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

 "I don't think anyone ever perceived one-year programs would be sufficient,'' Bellingham said.  "They needed to be 7- to 10-year programs, because the time it takes for an athlete identified as podium potential to reach the podium is eight to 10 years.''

The best example of that is Nordic combined. A nucleus of young athletes -- Johnny Spillane, Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick -- came oh so close to the first U.S. medal ever in the discipline at Salt Lake. Eight years later in Vancouver, they combined for not only the first medal but three more.

Bellingham was among the six finalists for the USOC top chief executive job that Scott Blackmun got in late 2009, a decision that made Bellingham's eventual departure inevitable.

For months before that, former USOC chairman Ueberroth regularly had jabbed Bellingham by asking, "Norm, what channel is our network on?''  

Ueberroth's insistence on pursuing a financially nonsensical network idea eventually irritated Olympic TV rights holder NBC, which took its anger to the International Olympic Committee. That led to another of the rifts in USOC-IOC relations, which the USOC has been frantically trying to patch up.

As the USOC's public face in the deal, Bellingham looked like the bad guy for an idea that some insist remains in limbo but most think died aborning. He also got whiplashed by the fallout over the USOC board power play that ousted Jim Scherr and installed Stephanie Streeter as interim CEO -- and her $1-million compensation for less than a year in the position.

Current employees will assume Bellingham's responsibilities in the short term. Any  full-time replacement can count on not making a $500,000 a year.

During his final year with the USOC, Bellingham oversaw the move into the organization's new headquarters in Colorado Springs. That included such things as helping choose the pictures for the walls.

Those pictures all show athletes in moments of striving rather than moments of triumph. The striving is what Bellingham saw as the essence and reward of the Olympic experience. Many of those athletes can also thank him for helping their efforts bring tangible prizes. 

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Outgoing USOC Chief Operating Officer Norm Bellingham. Credit: USOC

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