In the midst of the athletic department’s yearlong celebration of USC’s Olympic successes, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge spoke Wednesday at Town & Gown as part of Annenberg’s Sports and Social Change Speaker Series.
The discussion, hosted by Alan Abrahamson, a professor of journalism, covered a variety of topics, including the 1984 Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles, and focused on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“The 1984 Olympics left a tremendous legacy for this city,” Rogge said.
Because Italian Premier Mario Monti had ended Rome’s bid for the 2020 Summer Games because of financial concerns on Tuesday, the conversation turned quickly to the sustainability of the Olympic ideal and the impact of real-world incidents on the Games.
“Sport is not in a vacuum,” Rogge said. “Sport is part of society.”
Scott Blackmun, CEO of the United States Olympic Committee, also spoke at the event and highlighted the financial and logistical difficulty of hosting the Olympic Games on U.S. soil, stating the USOC was hesitant to submit a bid for the 2022 Winter Games.
“So much of the process depends on the [surrounding] circumstances, including support in Washington, D.C. … and the mood of the nation,” Blackmun said.
USC — which has had 393 total athletes associated with the university compete in the Games — and Southern California are intrinsically tied to the Games, Abrahamson said.
“There’s something special about Southern California,; it’s the weather — it’s great training conditions,” Abrahamson said. “[And] of course USC is a fantastic world-class university that has some world-class coaches and thinkers. Who wouldn’t want to be here?”
USC’s 258 combined Olympic medals — 122 of which are gold — would rank USC No. 18 among countries if the university competed as a country. Many of those medals have come as a result of the USC men’s and women’s swimming and diving team, coached by Dave Salo.
“It’s unwritten law that [this team is] not just a collegiate program; we’re responsible for training athletes for the Olympic Games,” Salo said.
Salo, who will serve as an assistant coach for the women’s swim team at the 2012 Olympics in London, has seen support from the athletic department and the administration.
“USC really supports our presence on the Olympic team,” Salo said. “It’s very important to USC. [Athletic Director] Pat Haden has clearly demonstrated that we want to celebrate our Olympic heritage and that we want our coaches, whatever sport, on Olympic staffs.”
Swimmer Rebecca Soni, who medaled three times — one gold, two silver — at the 2008 Olympics while still a student at USC, is now part of Salo’s extended graduate program, which combines with the undergraduate program to give USC “one of the world’s greatest swim programs,” according to Abrahamson.
Kevin Rutkowski, a junior majoring in political science and theater, said USC’s persona encourages the success the school’s alumni have seen at the Olympics.
“We have the resources available and the drive to compete [at USC],” Rutkowski said. “We do our best to balance sports and academics and we all try to excel in all fields, which attracts better athletes.”