August 29, 2004 1:39 pm
Deposed USOC chief feels pride from a distance
ATHENS, Greece - At one time, this was to be Lloyd Ward's Olympics.
Ward was the $500,000-a-year CEO of the United States Olympic Committee during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
He was the rising star of the American Olympic movement as corporate support bloomed and the United States won a record 34 medals, one shy of the three previous Winter Games combined.
But as Michael Phelps and Mia Hamm captured gold in Athens this month, Ward sat in front of his television seven time zones away.
``I absolutely feel a part of what's going on in Athens,'' Ward said during a telephone interview from his home in Long Boat Key, Fla. ``I feel like a part of me is there.''
Ward, the former CEO of Newton, Iowa-based Maytag, left the USOC after facing conflict-of-interest allegations that spawned the most public dispute in the organization's history.
Now he's co-founded a company called BodyBlocks Nutrition Systems Inc. in Atlanta.
The company rolled out an initial product line of N Motion energy drinks and an energy bar this month in the Atlanta area. It hopes to compete in the market against Red Bull and Power Bar.
``That was then and this now,'' Ward, 55, said of the USOC tumult. ``I am very, very excited what it going on in my life.''
Questions about Ward's alleged USOC influence in a bid involving the 2003 Pan-American Games in the Dominican Republic fueled claims of conflict of interest. A power company involved in the bid employed his brother.
When Congress looked into the matter, Ward admitted an ``error in judgment,'' but he never faced major sanctions related to the bid.
``I didn't do anything wrong,'' Ward said. ``The records will show I didn't do anything wrong. It was highly political.''
The USOC fractured during the time, as five high-ranking members resigned following the decision not to sanction Ward - including three members of the USOC's ethics committee.
Ward, a former Michigan State basketball player who grew up in Romulus, Mich., eventually left and the USOC reorganized, slashing its 123-member board to 11.
``Maybe that was my contribution to the USOC,'' said Ward, characterizing the old system as too big and political. ``Essentially, it's a clean slate and a new day. It needed to be simplified.''
Ward built an impressive business resume with leadership positions at Procter & Gamble, Frito-Lay and Pepsi before becoming the first African-American CEO of a publicly traded Fortune 500 company at Maytag in 1996.
The market and Maytag's performance soured as Ward and the board bickered about the future of the company.
Ward left to become chairman and CEO of a failed venture iMotors, which sold used cars on the Internet. It folded seven months after he took over.
At the USOC, Ward was responsible for 500 paid employees and a four-year budget of $419 million.
``Sometimes you hit a home run, sometimes you get on base, sometimes you swing and miss the ball,'' Ward said. ``I'm in the point in my life where I've got wonderful choices.''
Ward already has made a major push with the N Motion product line, signing track and field star Michael Johnson as spokesman.
The energy Ward brings to his ventures earned him praise in Salt Lake City, as he strapped on a helmet and rode the bobsled with U.S. athletes during pre-Olympic training.
Ward stayed connected to the next Olympic cycle Athens, saying he talked with NBC sports head Dick Ebersol about the approach to coverage that included more on-field competition than human-interest pieces.
``It's about seeing the athletes perform,'' Ward said.
As Ward watched the Olympics from Florida, he admitted longing to see the competition from a closer seat.
``I really was the right person at the right time for the Olympics,'' he said. ``The issue never was about my performance. It was about politics.
``I'm not a political guy. You won't see my running for office.''
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COMMENTARY AND PERSPECTIVE
MIKE LOPRESTI | Gannett News Service
IAN O'CONNOR | The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
CHRISTINE BRENNAN | USA TODAY
DAN BICKLEY | The Arizona Republic
LYNN HENNING | The Detroit News
BOB KRAVITZ | The Indianapolis Star
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