January 2005

BASHING CRAIG MASBACK has become a popular Internet exercise in some quarters. And by all accounts there are some inside the world of the volunteer organization that is USA Track & Field that also want his scalp. Fortunately, neither of these radical camps held any particular sway when push came to shove and USATF’s Board Of Directors recently extended his contract as CEO.

We’re not on each other’s Xmas-card lists by any means, but I do have to admit to a friendly relationship with Craig that predates his involvement with the federation by many years (ahh, the trip to a Eugene movie theater at the ’80 Olympic Trials to see The Shining, with rowdy athletes rolling beer bottles between the seats), so perhaps I don’t bring a perfectly detached journalist’s perspective to the proceedings. Nor am I a USATF insider in any way; I steer clear of the political side of things.

But with those two caveats made clear, from where I sit allow me to say that Masback has been the right guy in the right place at the right time.

The Ollan Cassell era in Indianapolis ended with a feeling that new blood was needed to drive a fading sport into the next century. As a former world-class performer who had stayed intimately in touch with the sport and with a law degree under his suspenders, Masback seemed a perfect fit. He has done nothing to dissuade me that that analysis was wrong.

Yes, the last few years of incessant drug-scandaling have come on his watch and while it’s true that the buck should always stop at the head man’s desk, my take on that is a simple one: despite all the PR hits the U.S. side of the sport has taken, it would have been only worse without Masback in place. Despite what on the surface might look like fallings-out with the IAAF, I think he has maintained their respect as a valid caretaker for the sport in the U.S.

His shrewd diplomacy and understanding of how things work in the labyrinthine halls of bureaucracy that make up not only USATF but also the international sporting community as a whole have prevented a real disaster. Without him at the helm, I think the USOC’s threat to decertify USATF may well have come to pass.

There’s a second strong element required to keep an organization like USATF glued together and that’s a strong President. Not in any way to disparage his predecessors, but USATF has never had as good a prexy as Bill Roe, so it was with great pleasure that I noted his re-election in Portland. As with Masback, allow me to note while Roe too is not on the Xmas list, he and I do share an unbridled passion for Lord Of The Rings, and that doesn’t mean the shot or discus kind.

But Roe has been absolutely tireless in working for USATF’s best interest, from top to bottom. No matter what age group or how amateur or professional the athletes involved, Roe has taken a deep and incisive look at what’s going on and worked to make it better.

Best of all, I like the synergy when I see Masback and Roe working in concert. Each understands what belongs in whose bailiwick and whose strengths lie where. Having them both in place at once can mean nothing but good for U.S. track & field, and I’m glad that the people responsible for putting them in place saw fit to do so again.