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Come mid-August, Jeffrey Benz will be one of the busiest participants at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. But unlike the 10,000 athletes competing there, Benz’s challenges will take place out of the public eye. That’s because Benz, 35, is the GC, managing director of legal and government affairs, and acting chief compliance officer of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). The USOC, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is responsible for underwriting the expenses for the U.S. teams in the Olympic and Pan American Games, operating three training centers, and supporting U.S. cities in their bids to host the games. Benz joined the USOC in August 2001 by way of the San Francisco office of Coudert Brothers, where he worked for two-and-a-half years as an associate doing intellectual property, commercial litigation, and sports law. At Coudert, he served on the USOC’s board of directors and was its outside trademark counsel. But his Olympic roots run deeper: From 1985 to 1990 he was a member of the American figure skating team. At the USOC, Benz is responsible for all of the legal aspects of fielding a U.S. Olympic team, including corporate sponsorship, corporate governance, ethics and compliance, real estate, commercial, and IP issues. His busiest periods, he says, occur just before the Olympic games, when disputes arise over which athletes are picked to join the teams. The games themselves can be hectic, too, with arguments over medals often running into the early hours. Did you ever compete in the Olympics? [As a member of the non-Olympic national team] I won a national title, but did not qualify for the Olympic Games. The USOC is heavily involved in the battle to fight drug use among athletes. What is your role in this effort? That’s a substantial part of what I do on a daily basis. My office is responsible for the USOC’s relationship with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the World Anti-Doping Agency, and the International Olympic Committee’s efforts. It’s not a purely legal issue; it’s a policy issue. The [USOC] is about Olympic ideals, and the fight against doping goes to the core of those ideals. If people don’t think that Olympic athletes are playing according to the rules, or that Olympic athletes are not playing on a level playing field, then people won’t watch the Olympic Games, sponsors may not provide sponsorship, and parents may not allow their children to participate. The USOC has been under criticism in recent years for claims of ethics violations involving the chief executive, who was accused of attempting to get his brother a multimillion-dollar supplier contract for the 2003 Pan American Games. [The deal was never completed, and the USOC's executive committee cleared Lloyd Ward of serious violations.] What has been your role in this and other problems? One of my main projects in the last 12 months has been to lead the USOC’s governance reform. We have taken the board down from 123 members to 12, eliminated the 24-member executive committee, and taken the number of committees down from 22 to four. We are much more professional in terms of operation and governance, and we have undertaken to voluntarily follow the requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley to the extent that those [corporate governance] regulations can be applied to nonprofits. We’ve instituted a whistle-blower procedure and are engaging in the certification of our financial statements. Certain companies, like Home Depot, Inc., employ Olympic athletes in such a way that their schedules allow them to train. Do you have any role in facilitating these kinds of programs? We’re involved with setting up the legal structure of these programs. Home Depot has benefited a lot. I live about 45 minutes north of Colorado Springs, and I see a lot of athletes [working] at the Home Depot there. How does someone become an Olympic table tennis player, or get involved with any of the more obscure Olympic sports? They start very young. Often there is prior family involvement in the sport. Sometimes they get introduced through community programs or other things. Luge right now is benefiting from the street-luging phenomenon [an extreme sport where a pilot lies on his back, feet first, and races down a hill on an aluminum board, wearing nothing but a motorcycle helmet and a leather suit]. Which do you prefer, the summer or winter games? Each has its strengths; although if I had to indicate a preference, I’d say the winter games because they have much more of a community feel.

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