Reality check: USOC on board with made-for-TV scouting camp
DENVER (AP) — America’s got talent, and the leaders at the U.S. Olympic Committee are turning on the TV cameras to find it.
The quest for gold and America’s insatiable appetite for reality television are merging this summer with an Olympic scouting camp that will ultimately be packaged as a one-episode reality show. Instead of earning a final rose, eight athletes from an original cast of 100 will find themselves competing for spots on future U.S. Olympic teams.
“For a few years, we’ve been thinking a lot about talent transfer. High-level athletes around the country playing one sport or another who may not make it to the top of that sport,” said Alan Ashley, the USOC’s chief of sport performance. “This is a chance for them to look at Olympic sports, to transfer over and get involved.”
Lest we all start jumping off the couch and warming up, there are a few caveats:
— In the first phase of the project, the USOC is looking only for athletes for cycling, rugby and the sliding sports of bobsled and skeleton.
— The USOC is in search of “elite” athletes, and is focusing much of its attention toward college rosters.
— The individual sports have lofty requirements to even be considered for the initial tryout roster of 50 men and 50 women. For example, a rugby hopeful would need to squat around two times his or her weight for three repetitions; a man trying out for bobsled or skeleton would need to broad jump nearly 11 feet (at most NFL scouting combines, about a dozen players reach that distance).
The idea of crossover athletes at the Olympics is nothing new, of course.
Patriots special teamer Nate Ebner is one of three players to wear NFL uniforms who went on to earn a spot on the U.S. rugby team in the reintroduction of that sport to the Olympics last year.
And track stars (see Lolo Jones), football players (see Herschel Walker) and people who do both (see Willie Gault) have long been crossing over from their original sports to ride bobsled in the Winter Olympics.
But where the individual sports organizations and athletes were often left to discover each other on their own in the past, now they’ll get some institutional help from the USOC, which will host the 100 candidates at the Olympic Training Center in July for a week’s worth of workouts. To get in the mix, athletes can go through the USOC’s online portal or show up June 24 at 24 Hour Fitness locations in 13 cities across the country.
The USOC and leaders in the four sports will choose eight athletes — one man and one woman for each sport — to become eligible for financial, training and medical services as they prepare to compete for their spot on the Olympic team in their sport.
“It’s great the USOC is jumping into this,” said Darrin Steele, the CEO of USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “From Day 1, we said, ‘Hey, we’re perfect for it.’ We know it’s not a golden ticket onto the team. It’s a screening process. It’s throwing a very wide net and trying to appeal to athletes who might not realize what the possibilities are.”
Make it or not, they will get air time.
Team USA will feature the camps on its social websites. Then, NBCSN will swoop in with a two-hour recap of the action, complete with — of course — an announcement of the eight winners.
Steele says he’s not against using a bit of showbiz in the name of success.
“I don’t see it as an issue,” he said, “because the only way you make our team is if you’re able to help us win.”