Illustration by Melinda Beck

Scott Blackmun, JD ’82, is CEO of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), the orga
nizing body for American participation in “The Games.” Before his appointment to CEO in January 2010, he was general counsel and senior managing director for sport resources as well as interim CEO at the USOC. He is a lawyer as well as an athlete and fan—he played four years of varsity soccer at Dartmouth, was a partner at Holme Roberts & Owen LLP, and COO of the sports and entertainment colossus Anschutz Entertainment Group.

PattiSue Plumer, JD ’89 (BS ’85), associate cross-country and assistant track and field coach at Stanford, knows something about juggling education, work, and training for tough competition. A two-time Olympic runner, she qualified for the Seoul games and trained for the competition while still in her second year at Stanford Law School. A year after competing in Seoul, she broke the women’s American record in the 5,000 meter run—while also practicing law as an associate at Holtzmann, Wise & Shepard. She qualified for her second Olympic competition in 1992 and was the top American finisher in the women’s 3,000, placing fifth in the Barcelona games. A member of the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame, she chaired the Athletes Advisory Committee for USA Track & Field (1996-2002)—working with the USOC to formulate policies and practices to support athletes. She also coached track and field at Los Altos High School.

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The following discussion with Stanford Lawyer editor 
Sharon Driscoll took place just after the London Olympic Games.

Editor: The Olympics looked great on TV. How was it live, Scott?

Blackmun: It was magical. And everything that was supposed to happen happened—both on the field of play and off. We had a lot of moving pieces and not only did the athletes perform well but they comported themselves in a way that made all of us proud. The operations behind the scenes on our end worked just the way they were supposed to. So it was one of those rare times in life where you’re in the middle of something very complex and it all works just as you had hoped.

Editor: That came across on television, didn’t it, PattiSue?

Plumer: It really did. Scott—what was different this time? Is there something you could point to this time that made it different?

Blackmun: Yes, I think in terms of the athletes. We have something called the Ambassador’s Program, where we actually spend a few hours with every single member of the U.S. team talking about the opportunity that they have in front of them at the games, about their personal brand, about how what they do will reflect on their country and on them, for a long, long time. We started that program in Beijing and I think we’re getting better at communicating to the athletes about the great opportunity that they have. And they took it to heart. I think it’s putting them in a much better position to portray themselves and their country in a positive light. So I think that is a factor.

In terms of the operational stuff, we had a fantastic team. Alan Ashley and Leslie Gamez and the people who work with them did a tremendous job of not only managing the 529 athletes that we had in London but the 529-plus support staff and volunteers that were there to make all of this work. We had more than a thousand people over there to support the team. I give all the credit to them.

Also, I think we’ve become in the last few years even more focused on making sure that the financial support and the support in sports science, sports medicine, and sports psychology have an impact. I think we saw that in spades in London. Our support is having a tangible impact.

Editor: Was London up for the job of hosting?

Blackmun: London did a fantastic job. The funny thing was I don’t think people in London were expecting to do as well as they did. They kind of went into it thinking, “Oh, we hope we don’t embarrass ourselves.” But as each day went by, I think we all saw more clearly what great preparation had gone into the games, and I really can’t say enough about the great job that the London organizing committee did.

Editor: One of the big stories from these games seems to be “women.” This is the first games where every country had at least one woman competing—with Saudi Arabia tipping it to 100 percent. And for the first time ever, the U.S. team had more women than men.

Blackmun: Both of those statements are true but it wasn’t just Saudi Arabia—both Brunei and Qatar also had women for the first time. And I think that it’s a wonderful reflection of the impact of Title IX. What we’re seeing is that young girls in our country 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago had opportunities that women in other countries didn’t have, and now we’re seeing the results of that. I think as the rest of the world catches up and creates the same kinds of opportunities for young girls that we’ve been creating since Title IX was put into place, it’s going to be tougher for us to maintain our competitive level of performance on the women’s side. But we saw Title IX at these games very, very clearly and it was a lot of fun to see. The women won more gold medals than the men did.

Plumer: I agree 100 percent. You have to have that opportunity when you’re young to appreciate what sports can mean to your life and how they can make your life better. If those opportunities aren’t there, you’re certainly not going to jump into the Olympics. You don’t make an Olympic team by accident—it takes many years of preparation. Maybe 20 years ago, 30 years ago, you could say “I’m gonna find the most obscure sport possible and go after it,” but that’s just simply not possible today. We provide women with opportunity and the results speak for themselves.

There is, of course, an ongoing concern about how to support the men’s teams on a collegiate level. I think the momentum has slowed in terms of the cuts in men’s sports, but there are still far fewer opportunities for non-football players than there used to be. And I think that has to be addressed at some point. How we address it, how we solve it, I’ll leave up to people like Scott.

Blackmun: And I can tell you that’s definitely a concern of ours. If you look at our success at the Olympic Games, a lot of it comes from programs that are NCAA programs—swimming, athletics, gymnastics, wrestling—those are all programs that from time to time are threatened at the collegiate level so it’s really important for us to find ways to keep those programs in existence.

At this point we’re trying to better equip ADs and coaches to have conversations about fundraising. Just look at men’s gymnastics at CAL—a lot of people with means would be in a position to support the men’s gymnastic program there—and once they knew the story, they did. And realistically these programs cost, in many cases, less than a million dollars a year.

So giving coaches and ADs the tools to go out and connect with people interested in supporting these programs is one way we’re trying to address the challenge, but the challenge is definitely there.

Editor: So, does a successful Olympics help fundraising?

Blackmun: It’s funny. We do need to do well in competition because if we don’t, it’s more difficult for us to raise the support from Americans. With that said, the most powerful things about the

Olympic movement are the values that underlie it. And honestly, one of my favorite moments from the games was the women’s triathlon and watching Sarah Groff close to the lead group, then fall back in the last 100 meters, but finally, and I was right there at the finish line, she finished fourth. To me, it was one of the most gratifying moments in the games. We have to remember it’s about being the best that you can be. And we had some athletes, like Sarah and others, who really demonstrated that. I think Americans get inspired as much by that as by the podium performance.

Editor: Can you share with us your standout moments from the games?

Blackmun: As I said, there was a magical feeling that the whole world was coming together to celebrate sports and our great athletes—globally, not just the U.S. I thought it was an Olympics almost without any drama because everyone was so focused on the glory of sports.

But there were moments. The last event of the Olympic Games was the women’s modern pentathlon and Margaux Isaksen finished fourth. Literally only seconds away from a podium—but a great, great performance. The men’s basketball team, watching that great final against Spain; the women’s soccer team, its semi-final victory over Canada, just unbelievable. I could go on and on with individual performances that I thought shined a really positive light on the United States and our athletes.

Plumer: It’s funny because before Scott even said it, I was thinking that the drama of these games took place on the playing field, on the track, in the swimming pool. It didn’t take place off the field. I mean obviously there were a few moments, but really, truly the drama was where it was supposed to be. And, boy, was it unbelievable, breathtaking.

For me, the men’s 10,000 was incredible. I happened to be visiting some family in Southern California and stopped in a bakery and everyone there was watching the 10,000 on TV—every single person in that bakery was watching. And I thought probably nobody in there was an actual track fan, apart from just me and my brother. But we were all Olympics fans and enthralled by this 10,000 meter race—25 laps running in circles! In and of itself, it’s not that exciting, but that moment really captured the magic of the Olympics. There’s so much story there, with every person watching this event. They may never watch another 10,000 race in their lives but they were cheering each lap. It was amazing!

Editor: Did you stay for the 
Paralympics, Scott?

Blackmun: Yes. Our place in the medal count isn’t as high there. China is way, way, way out in front. I think as Americans, we need to give our Paralympic athletes the same opportunity we give our Olympics athletes to get on the podium. So as we look ahead, I think improving our general performance in the Paralympic Games is going to be a priority for us.

Editor: You both have made your love of sports a career—what’s it like working with the next generation of Olympic athletes?

Plumer: I love what I do—especially at Stanford. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Blackmun: And I can’t imagine a place I’d rather be right now. It’s a very exciting time. And for me to have been able to be a part of Vancouver and London, which I think were two of America’s finest moments in the Olympic Games, I feel very fortunate.

Editor: Thank you, both of you, for all you’re doing.

To read the May, 2010 Stanford Lawyer “Legal Matters” Q&A with Blackmun and Plumer, go to