President's Message: 2015 Convention Letter

President's Message: 2015 Convention Letter

By Jim Sheehan//USA Swimming President  | Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Good evening everyone. It has been a very interesting and rewarding first year as USA Swimming President. There have been challenges, surprises, excitement and excellence in many areas of our sport and a lot of that is due to the work of the thousands of USA Swimming members represented by those here in this room. We are a vibrant organization and I'm very much looking forward to a successful future for USA Swimming.

This is a special year in the quadrennial. In 2015 we sent four teams into international competition and their achievements are clearly cause for celebration. The first of the year was the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea. Our 47 athletes earned 34 medals with 15 gold to lead all nations in the overall medal count. Immediately after that were the Pan American Games, and again, we led all nations in the medal count with 34, 13 of which were gold. At the FINA World Championships, USA Swimming took the team trophy with 25 medals and nine golds. And at the most recent event, the FINA World Junior Championships, our athletes topped the medal standings with 26 medals, six of which were gold. 

The athletes on these teams showed how exceptional they are not only as athletes but also as first rate representatives of Team USA. Seeing how well they have performed gives me great hope for our future on the international stage. 

Of special note was the performance of Katie Ledecky in the freestyle events in Kazan. I was honored to be able to see it live and hear the cheers from the entire crowd in appreciation of what she accomplished. It is also important to recognize the great success of our open water athletes. It was a banner year with seven medals from the World University Games, Pan Ams and World Championships. Within those seven medals were four gold, two silver and one bronze with two fourth place finishes as well. At the World Championships, the USA open water team won the team title and qualified three swimmers for the 10K marathon swim at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Congratulations to the first members of the 2016 Olympic team; Jordan Wilimovsky, Sean Ryan, and Haley Anderson.

While we can celebrate the accomplishments of our athletes, I would be remiss if I did not also congratulate and thank those who provided support for the athletes leading up to and during the competitions. Many thanks to the coaches, managers and other support staff for their tireless work in making sure our athletes had what they needed to compete at the highest levels.

We have also had international success out of the water. At the Congress of the Union American de Natacion or UANA, the aquatics organization for the Americas, Dale Neuburger was re-elected to represent the Americas on the FINA Bureau as a Vice President for the 2017-2021 term. In 2013, when FINA named its committees and commissions, we were honored by having a USA representative on almost every committee and commission. Dale's re-election as Vice President bodes well for continuing that level of representation at the highest levels of swimming governance. Additionally, at that same congress, Dale was named as President of UANA for the next four years. These are two very important positions of influence in international aquatics and we congratulate Dale for his success.

As I said earlier, this is a special year. Not only is it a year of celebration and recognition, it is also a year of anticipation and expectation. We are less than a year from our Olympic Trials and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. With the selection of Olympic Team Head Coaches David Marsh and Bob Bowman in the pool and, most recently, Catherine Vogt for open water, we kick off the drive to Rio. Congratulations to Catherine, David and Bob for the well-deserved honor of leading our team of athletes, coaches and managers at the 31st Olympic Games. I know we are all very much looking forward to cheering on the athletes as they strive to reach their dreams of Olympic participation.

We now have three athletes and three coaches who are going to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games. But there are four more who have earned their tickets to Rio. Beginning in 2008 in Beijing, marathon swimming has been part of the aquatics schedule. In addition to those three athletes, the head referees have been named for the marathon swimming events. Please help me congratulate Sid Cassidy on being named the Head Referee for the Men's Marathon Swimming event in Rio.

For the past five Olympics, USA Swimming has been honored by having a starter and a judge for the pool swimming competition. This recognition is very much appreciated and it speaks highly of the training, experience and attitude of our volunteer officials, not only at the highest level but all around the country in every LSC. While I suspect many of you already know this, I wanted to make a point of congratulating Jay Thomas who will be a judge and Cecil Gordon who will be a starter at the Olympic Games in Rio. Both are here in this room and I ask you recognize their appointments with a round of applause. 

At many of our national championships you have heard a number of announcers who have done a terrific job providing information and excitement for our events. We are also honored to have one of those announcers, Michael Poropat, as one of the two announcers for the Olympic Games in Rio.

In addition to the all the work that will go into building and supporting our team for the Rio Games in the coming year, there are several important initiatives that swimming will be undertaking over the next year. At the May Board of Directors meeting, a study was approved to review our LSC and Zone structure and functionality and then make recommendations for any opportunities to improve how the LSCs and Zone operate. I firmly believe that it is healthy for any organization to periodically step back and take an objective look at its operation from the outside. The group we hired to perform the study, Design Group International, has been here at our convention this week, kicking off the research phase of the project. You may have seen and even met with the people working on this project this week and I recommend that you take any opportunity to speak with them while they are here. This task force of ten will be overseeing and managing this project and I want to thank Larry Johnson for agreeing to lead the task force for this very important project. I also want to thank the Governance and LSC Development committees, chaired by Frank Swigon and Cherita Gentilucci, respectively, for working so well together to bring this project into existence. It is an example of how committees can work together as a team to reach a common goal. We are hoping that we will have a report from this task force in time for next year's convention. 

Tomorrow you will be voting on a number of changes to our rule book and the two I am particularly interested in relate to anti-doping. Both items are intended to tighten up aspects of how our members deal with those banned for anti-doping offenses. It is a priority of USA Swimming that we have a clean sport and having the right rules in place is critical to achieving that goal. I ask for your support of rules proposals that will remove loopholes when doping violations are involved.

But rules are only part of what we need to do to address the challenges of performance enhancing drugs. We need to be working with the United States Anti-Doping Agency and FINA to try to ensure that all athletes have a level playing field. We have seen over the past few years occurrences in a number of sports where coordinated doping of athletes has occurred. Those who will try to gain an advantage through illegal means will be working at finding new ways to do so and we, working with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and with FINA, must meet the challenge of those who try to beat the system.

With the coming of the Olympic year, it is time to think about the next quad. Early next year, the staff will begin work on the business plan for the 2017-2020 quad and there is a critical part in this process for all of us. Over the next several months it is very important for all committees to start thinking about what they see for the next quad and work with the staff liaisons to flesh out those opportunities so they can be considered in the next business plan. Beyond the committees, if anyone has any ideas, concerns, or suggestions for the next quad, please feel free to send them to me and I will make sure they are reviewed and considered.

There are many people I would like to thank for the successes of this past year. Most important, I would like to thank all the athletes for everything they do for the sport. Of course, we all love cheering on our athletes as they compete and without them, there is no USA Swimming. Which is why it is critically important for us to make sure that athletes have every opportunity to participate in the leadership of the great sport of swimming. In the years I've been involved in governance, I've been fortunate to be able to see the exceptional growth of athletes in helping determine the direction of our sport at all levels. And that dedication to giving back to the sport by the athletes is continuing today. I applaud them and ask you to do the same.

I personally would like to thank all the coaches, officials and other volunteers who spend untold amounts of time in helping our sport succeed and be the best swimming federation in the world. I was recently able to spend some time with several of our international colleagues and they admire our success and believe they can learn from us, not just in international competition, but in how we work from the grass roots on up to the top of the pyramid. 

As an example, we hosted several people from Swimming Australia in Colorado Springs earlier this year so they could spend time with our staff and get a better understanding of, among other things, our club structure and operations. Of course, we took the opportunity to understand more about swimming in Australia to help us be even better than we are now.

There are two groups of volunteers to whom I would like to extend special thanks. First are the Committee Chairs who lead their committees in developing programs and initiatives that will lead us into the future. Also deserving great thanks is the Board of Directors for the time and effort they have contributed in providing strategic direction and oversight for USA Swimming.

Last but certainly not least, I would like to thank our staff in Colorado Springs. They work tirelessly to drive our organization to new heights and greater success. Personally, they have been a great help to me, especially in the first months after last year's convention. There is a lot of new information for anyone in this position and the staff was always ready, willing and able to spend time with me. They are, unquestionably, the best staff of any national governing body.

And in particular I want to thank two people who have been invaluable to our sport and to me this past year. Those two people are our Assistant Executive Director, Mike Unger, and our Executive Director, Chuck Wielgus. There is a significant learning curve for a new president and both Chuck and Mike spared no effort in making room in their busy schedule. And they have been leading the staff to excellence year after year. Thank you both for everything you have done this year.

In closing, I leave you with the hope that this convention has been an effective and productive one for all of you on many levels. We have had a great year and we should be looking forward to an even better one leading up to the Olympic Games. Again, I thank you all for your hard work and dedication and wish you all the best for the coming year.


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