By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) – U.S. Olympic Committee Board Chair Larry Probst will step down at the end of the year and be replaced by board member Susanne Lyons, who until recently was the acting CEO, USOC said on Monday
Probst, 68, was first elected chair in October 2008 and recently oversaw the opening of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an independent entity that aims to help the sports community to respond to incidents of abuse.
SafeSport was launched in the wake of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s serial sexual abuse of gymnasts. Nassar is serving an effective life sentence for his crimes.
Probst acknowledged that sporting authorities had not done enough to protect the gymnasts.
“We failed our athletes,” he told reporters on a call.
“I’m at the top of the food chain and so I take this very personally,” he said.
“We have said on many occasions that we are very sorry for what happened and we’re very empathetic towards the survivors and we have to be laser-focused on athlete safety.”
In July, the USOC announced that Sarah Hirshland, chief commercial officer for the U.S. Golf Association, will be the first woman to serve as USOC’s permanent CEO after the departure of Scott Blackmun in February for health reasons.
Probst said it was “now time for a new generation of leaders to confront the challenges facing the organization, and I have the utmost confidence in Susanne’s and Sarah’s ability to do just that.”
Lyons said the new leadership hopes to foster a cultural change at the USOC that puts the emphasis squarely on the well-being of the athletes.
“We need to remind people that the athletes are the center of our world and the reason why we are here,” she said.
“Sometimes perhaps we got caught up in the operations of the Games and sometimes maybe we lost sight of that fact.
“We have to always make it clear that this isn’t just about medals and money. Those are outcomes. If we’re doing our job right and enabling and empowering our athletes and they are training in an environment where they feel safe, they will achieve great heights.”
Probst led the USOC during one of the most successful sporting periods in American history, with Team USA topping the Olympic medal counts in Vancouver, London and Rio, as well as the Paralympic medal count in Pyeongchang.
The USOC also credited Probst with the successful renegotiation of the USOC’s revenue-sharing agreement with the International Olympic Committee and for helping Los Angeles win its bid to host the Games in 2028.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Kevin Liffey)