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Caryn Maconi

Development Writer, U.S. Olympic Committee

In U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movements, diversity is key to success


Students participate in a workshop at the USOC’s FLAME (Finding Leaders Among Minorities Everywhere) Program (2015). 

At the U.S. Olympic Committee and its sport governing bodies, promoting diversity is about more than doing the right thing.

It’s about achieving organizational success.

The USOC’s Diversity and Inclusion department operates with the vision that by harnessing the synergy of many diverse talents – at the athlete, staff and leadership levels – Team USA’s performance can only benefit.

Paralympic champion Andre Shelby, the first African American to represent Team USA in archery at the Paralympic Games, understands this concept on a personal level. A Navy veteran who was wounded in service, Shelby discovered the sport of archery during rehabilitation – and went on to win a gold medal in Rio.

“This was not the first time I was the only African American on a team, but to be the only African American on the Paralympic Archery Team was phenomenal,” Shelby said. “I just wish the awareness of archery was available to more minorities. I think different sport organizations should extend themselves to diverse backgrounds – it can and will benefit the sport and the athlete.”

For USOC Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun, valuing diversity among staff and leadership is a priority for many reasons – but importantly, such a culture allows the USOC to better cultivate its pipeline of high performance athletes.

“Diversity and inclusion are core values at the USOC because they make us better as an organization, ensuring that we’re capable of solving our complex business needs and equipped to provide the kind of support America’s athletes need,” Blackmun said.

“The more we include diverse perspectives and experiences in our work and thinking, the more likely we’ll be able to thrive in an incredibly competitive world.”

In fact, in a recent study, the USOC found that teams that won medals were more diverse throughout all levels of the organization than teams that did not medal. That held true for both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

“The USOC embraces transparency in our D&I commitment,” said Jason Thompson, the USOC’s Directory of Diversity and Inclusion. “We know there are opportunities for improvement, and we have fully accepted the challenge. We appreciate the support we receive from Scott Blackmun and the USOC Board of Directors, and our department has continued to be empowered by their leadership and commitment.”

The USOC was honored with the No. 1 ranking for innovations in diversity by Diversity Journal in 2016, while Thompson was named individually as a 2017 Diversity Leader Award recipient.

In an effort to be proactive about diversity in the business of sport, the USOC runs an annual program called FLAME – Finding Leaders Among Minorities Everywhere. This program provides diverse college and graduate-level students with a unique look into the world of elite sport. Over eight days, students participate in personal and professional development workshops in preparation for a career in sports.

The program is based out of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, a setting that offers the opportunity to meet Team USA athletes from diverse backgrounds and try a variety of Olympic and Paralympic sports.

Bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time world champion and two-time Olympic medalist, participated in a Q&A panel and networking session with students during the 2015 FLAME Program.

“As a minority myself, it’s important that as young children we see people who look like us on prospective fields, so we know that we can achieve anything we want regardless of our race and/or gender,” Meyers Taylor said. “FLAME gives professionals in sport an opportunity to interact and share their experiences being a minority, but also brainstorm how to move forward and push through any glass ceilings that exist.  

“It’s important to have leaders in sports that represent the same races and genders as the athletes who participate in them, and FLAME helps build leaders from a variety of diverse backgrounds.”

Past FLAME participants, like Keck Graduate Institute student Alec Contag, have found value in learning about career opportunities, discussing diversity issues and connecting with like-minded individuals around the USOC’s mission.

“My favorite part about the FLAME Program was being in a place where high caliber athletics and really mission-based values come together,” Contag said, “and seeing how the Team Behind the Team can really help us reach our goals.”

FLAME, which has a 23-year history, is currently accepting applications for the 2017 program set for July 25 – Aug. 1 in Colorado Springs. Click here to learn more about participation guidelines and how to apply. The deadline to apply is Sunday, March 19, at 5 p.m. MDT.

Behind each of these initiatives is a common goal: to cultivate diverse talents, and in turn build a stronger Team USA. That’s a mission that anyone, regardless of background, can get behind.

Like the USOC itself, the Diversity and Inclusion programs are funded largely by private philanthropic support.

Drs. Tej and Simran Singh, who also serve as Trustees of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation, made a generous gift in 2016 that will help support initiatives like FLAME in the coming years.

“Diversity is important for any organization’s success, and we are so excited to see the USOC make this a priority at all levels from the introductory FLAME program all the way to our leadership,” the Singhs said. “Bringing diverse perspectives and people together always leads to a winning team.”

If you are interested in getting involved or making a gift to support the USOC’s Diversity & Inclusion programs, email foundation@usoc.org — or click here to make a one-time donation to Team USA.

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Where to go from here: For U.S. Olympians and Paralympians, athlete career services provide clarity for life after sport


Alongside Jeremy Bloom (left) and Joey Cheek (right), four-time U.S. Olympian Lauryn Williams talks to Team USA athletes about life after sport at the 2016 Olympic & Paralympic Athlete Career and Education Summit in Arlington, Virginia.

Who am I?

Olympian. Bobsledder. Runner.

Lauryn Williams is the first American woman to win medals at both the summer and winter editions of the Olympic Games. She knew these three words described her.

But what else? Beyond her athletic career, who was she really?

On the track, Williams raced to two silver medals in the 100-meter (Athens 2004, London 2012) and a gold in the 4x100m relay (London 2012). She then found success on the ice, winning silver in the two-woman bobsled with Elana Meyers at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

When she retired after Sochi, Williams had the urge to stay busy.

“I was worried that sitting on the couch was a bad thing – as an athlete, you’re used to being up and going all the time,” Williams said. “But the first step I had to take once I finally decided I was ready to find out, ‘Who am I?’, was to get back on the couch.”

Williams wasn’t watching TV, though. She made a list of her interests and passions outside of sport (she majored in finance at the University of Miami) as well as her leadership experiences within sport (including as a member of the WADA Athlete Committee and USADA Ambassador’s Club). Ultimately, she decided to pursue a career in financial literacy.

“I made a resume, showed up at a place and said, ‘I’m ready to work here,’” Williams said. “It was a little unorthodox the way that I approached it, but if people see your passion, they’re willing to work with you and introduce you to the field that you’re interested in.”

Williams now has her MBA in business administration and management and owns her own company. Worth Winning focuses on assisting athletes and other young people in managing their finances as emerging professionals.

Williams participated in a panel in September at the 2016 Olympic & Paralympic Athlete Career and Education Summit presented by the Foundation for Global Sports Development, a three-day program open to all 2016 U.S. Olympians and Paralympians. The Summit, which is held after the Games every two years, aims to provide both currently competing and soon-to-retire athletes with tangible and actionable resources for career and life.

From the vantage point of both an Olympian and a successful entrepreneur, Williams spoke with 212 members of Team USA about their transition to life after sport.

Her first piece of advice, whether an athlete plans to keep competing post-Rio or move on from sport, was to reach out to the USOC’s Athlete Career and Education (ACE) Program. In addition to the post-Games Summit, ACE provides year-round services including resume building and interviewing tips, mentoring sessions and assistance finding flexible employment and education opportunities.

“You don’t realize how valuable it is to have a whole crew of people supporting you. You have your teammates, you have your coach, you have this whole entourage helping you,” Williams said. “You need another team to help you in the next phase of life.”

Maximizing every minute

Tavis Bailey, a 2016 U.S. Olympian in discus, is not ready to end his track & field career just yet – but that doesn’t mean he’s pressing pause on professional life.

In between a full training schedule, Bailey works in sales at a signage company. Outgoing and personable, he excels at – and enjoys – the job. What’s more, he’s earning an income that both pays for his competition and travel costs and allows him to save to someday buy a home.

“You hear athletes say all the time, ‘I don’t want a job behind a desk, that’s not what I want to do,’” Bailey said. “But in reality, great jobs are behind desks – even the President of the United States has a job behind a desk. There are days when I don’t want to make phone calls, I don’t want to deal with people. But then I think to myself, ‘I want to buy a house, and I want a big TV in that house. So that’s my motivation. If track went away today, I would be fine.”

In order to balance his training load and competition schedule with work, Bailey maximizes every moment of his time. He treats his hours in the office as recovery time, and eats almost constantly.

“If you hammer a really hard six-hour workout, and then your coach says, ‘Now, I don’t want you to do anything for the rest of the day. Stay off your feet, stay in a cool, air-conditioned space,” Bailey said. “Well, that sounds just like my office.”

Bailey is also fortunate to have a manager who doesn’t mind him working from home or on the road while traveling. A major initiative of the ACE Program is to identify more workplaces that offer flexible hours for athletes, most of whom travel internationally throughout their competition season.

“Having a job and a company that supports what you’re doing is everything,” Bailey said. “With a cell phone and a computer, I can do everything that I need to do – so I can leave for four days, and if my manager sees that I’m getting work done, I don’t need to take four days of vacation.”

A good hire

While the ACE Program helps athletes to identify their interests and hone their skills, it also markets athletes to employers directly. By communicating the value of hiring an Olympian or Paralympian to companies, the program is helping to change the perception of athletes’ capabilities off the field.

“Athletes don’t have a traditional resume sometimes when they show up at a job, but they do have skills,” Williams said. “An employer should be excited to see an athlete walk through their doors. We’re performance-oriented, we’re goal-oriented, and we’re full of discipline. We’re coachable; we’re ready to learn. We’re going to show up to work on time because we were at practice on time, and we’re going to be ready to perform to the best of our abilities.”

At his job, Bailey has even earned the nickname “Tenacious Tavis” for his ability to go after his goals with more drive than anyone else.

“If you’re an Olympian, it’s not like you just woke up one day and said, ‘I want to do this,’ and three days later it happened,” Bailey said. “There’s a level of determination and tenacity that we offer. And as an athlete, you’re used to doing things you don’t want to do. So when my boss asks me to do something I don’t want to do, like enter these hundred records into the system and it’s going to take two days, she’s like, ‘Yep, well you didn’t want to run those wind sprints either!’”

At the ACE Summit, athletes had the opportunity to participate in 16 workshops and breakout sessions with topics such as obtaining sponsorships, managing your finances wisely and building your personal brand. Members of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation ACE Working Group acted as professional mentors during practice networking sessions and met as a group to discuss ways to improve the career services available to Team USA athletes year-round.

The transition to life after sport can be difficult for elite athletes for many reasons – mental, physical and financial. The ACE Program aims to help athletes channel all that determination and passion into a new purpose – one that can be just as rewarding as their athletic careers ever were.

“Girl on Fire” Mackenzie Brown aiming for the podium in Rio as Team USA’s sole female archer


Mackenzie Brown, shown competing at the 2015 Archery World Cup Finals, will be Team USA’s sole female archer at the 2016 Olympic Games.

Archer Mackenzie Brown may have let her nerves get the best of her in 2012.

Brown made her Olympic Trials debut at age 16, finishing in the top-16 but narrowly missing a spot on Team USA for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Fairly new to international competition, Brown couldn’t quite contend with four-time Olympian Khatuna Lorig, two-time Pan American champion Jennifer Nichols or 2011 Pan Am silver medalist Miranda Leek.

Still, coming so close to the status of “Olympian” resonated with Brown. A former competitive swimmer, she had harbored Olympic dreams for much of her life.

She wasn’t about to settle for “almost”.

After the London Games, Brown was invited to join the residency program at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. There, she honed her skills alongside fellow national team members and elite coach Kisik Lee.

So when the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Archery approached, Brown was prepared to fight for that ticket to Rio.

“I focused on what I had done in training and managed my mind to the best of my abilities,” Brown said. “Archery is a very mentally taxing sport, and it’s important to have a strong mental game. I have been training full time to reach the level I needed to in order to earn a spot on this team.”

The Trials for archery were split into three phases. The first, held in September in College Station, Texas, narrowed the field to the top 16. In April, the field was further cut to eight at a shoot in Chula Vista. Then in late May in Newberry, Florida, the top-three men and top-three women were determined.

For Brady Ellison, Zachary Garrett and Jake Kaminski, Trials were the last stop on the road to Rio – all three men were named to the team. But for the women, who had not yet qualified an international quota in the team event, only the first-place finisher – Brown – was safe on Team USA.

This time, it was the newbie outperforming the legends – notably Lorig, for whom Rio would have marked a sixth Olympic Games.

“I gained a lot of perspective during my first Olympic Trials, and I think that helped quite a bit this go-around,” Brown reflected. “I had a better understanding of what it takes to be one of the best, and what I needed to do to train harder and smarter.”

The second and third-place finishers from Trials, Hye Youn Park and Lorig, could only qualify if the U.S. team finished top-three at a June world cup event in Antalya, Turkey.

The Antalya shoot didn’t go as planned, however, and the U.S. women lost in the quarterfinals.

Thus, Brown is the lone female archer who will compete for Team USA at the 2016 Games. Disappointed not to have her teammates by her side, Brown is nevertheless thrilled to be making her Olympic debut.

“It’s an exciting culmination of emotions – making the team means more to me than I can put into words,” Brown said. “It makes all the sacrifices my family and I have made to get here worth it, and I am so honored to represent the U.S. in Rio.”

Nicknamed the “Girl on Fire,” the 21-year-old has high hopes for her performance in Rio. She was a standout on the youth circuit as a teenager, finishing fifth at the World Archery Youth Championships in 2013.

A product of the Junior Olympic Archery Development club, Brown has steadily improved throughout her career. In her last shoot as a youth archer, the 2015 World Archery Youth Championships, she came away with individual silver.

After being named as an alternate for both the senior-level 2015 World Archery Championships and the 2015 Pan American Games, Brown rose to the occasion at the Aquece Rio tournament (also known as the Rio test event) last September.

There, on a challenging, hot and windy day, Brown took home bronze – the only American woman to win a medal.

“My goal is the podium,” Brown said of her plans for Rio 2016. “I shot really well in the Olympic Test Event, and I feel very confident that I can do the same or better in Rio.”

Brown begins competition in Rio on August 5 at the Sambódromo stadium, located within the Games’ Maracanã Zone.

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