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Five Questions with Benita Fitzgerald Mosley

Benita Fitzgerald Mosley has been a fixture of the international sports scene since winning gold in the 100-meter hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Named “Hurdler of the 1980s,” Fitzgerald Mosley parlayed her success on the track into a three-decade-long career at all levels of sports administration. A fierce supporter of and loyal advocate for the Women’s Sports Foundation, she served as our President in 1997 and 1998, as Chair of the Board in 2011 and 2012, and is a current member of our Board of Trustees.

In June of 2013, Fitzgerald Mosley was named chief of organizational excellence for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). In her current role, she oversees athlete career programs, the athlete ombudsman’s office, diversity and inclusion, human resources, facilities, NGB organizational development, security, and strategic planning. She also serves on the International Olympic Committee Women and Sport Commission, a role she undertook in March 2012.

From 2009-2013, Fitzgerald Mosley served as chief of sport performance for USA Track & Field. There, she managed national teams, championship events and high performance programs. Her four years with the organization included the 2012 London Games, where U.S. track & field athletes won 29 medals, representing the highest medal count for the U.S. in 20 years. Learn more about her illustrious career here.

We sat down with Fitzgerald Mosley to talk about the upcoming Sochi Games, how the USOC supports Team USA and why working with the Women’s Sports Foundation is important to her.

Women’s Sports Foundation: One of the things audiences look forward to most during any Olympics are those chill-inducing stories of comeback, redemption or inspiration. As the Chief of Organizational Excellence for the United States Olympic Committee, do you have any insider information on a few athletes to watch for these stories?

Benita Fitzgerald Mosley:
There are so many great athletes on the Sochi team. A couple of names come to mind. First, Sarah Hendrickson, a ski jumper, who had a major accident last summer and thought her chances of competing in Sochi were gone. For her to now return to competition and to qualify for the first-ever women’s ski jumping competition at the Olympic Winter Games is amazing. If the size of her heart and determination have anything to do with it, Sarah will definitely be in medal contention in Sochi. We can’t talk about an Olympic comeback story without talking about Sarah.

A few more to keep your eye on: Heather Richardson, a speedskater. Heather placed in the top ten in a couple of events in Vancouver in 2010 and is poised to be a gold medal threat in long track events. Kikkan Randall, a cross country skier, has won multiple World Cup events in the past season. She is our best hope for a cross country medal and if she gets on the podium, it will be the first medal ever for an American woman. Hannah Kearney, the most decorated World Cup mogul skier in history, is just amazing. Look for her to defend her Vancouver gold at her third Olympics in Sochi. Mikaela Shiffrin, a slalom skier, is a young and talented athlete making her Olympic debut in Sochi. She was the youngest skier ever to win a World Cup and is poised to medal in both the slalom and giant slalom events.

WSF: Elite athletes log a lifetime of training hours and sacrifice before they can fulfill their Olympic dreams. But these dedicated athletes could never make it to the world’s biggest stage without the support and guidance of the United States Olympic Committee. What has your organization done to prepare Team USA for the Sochi Games?

BFM: The USOC provides ongoing financial support to our athletes, mainly through the National Governing Bodies (NGBs). The eight winter NGBs have been working with the USOC over the past quad (four years) to fund specific programs and support their athletes. Some of that financial aid goes straight to the NGBs for things like training camps, medical support and physical therapy for athletes or to fund participation in international competitions – it runs the gamut based on the needs of that particular NGB.

For instance, before I was with the USOC, I was USA Track & Field’s chief of sport performance. We used the USOC’s financial support for training camps, specialized equipment, sports science programs and to fund our resident program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

While some money goes to the sport’s governing body, some of the USOC’s support goes directly to our athletes in the form of health insurance and financial stipends. Athletes are also offered Operation Goal support, a program that rewards athletes for their performance in international competition. Obviously, this year that competition is the Sochi Games; there will be prize money awarded for gold, silver and bronze medals.

The USOC also has an International Games department that manages all of the logistical challenges of sending Team USA to the Olympic Games – from uniforms and medical supplies to Games accreditations, air travel, ground transportation, and room assignments in the Olympic Village. They are the cog in the wheel of Team USA and an integral part of our team’s success. A relatively small IG staff is joined at the Games by additional staff from other departments at the USOC headquarters or from one of our Olympic Training Centers.

WSF: The Sochi Games have not been without its fair share of controversy and Team USA has always been looked to for its leadership and courage in times of conflict. Talk to me about how Team USA plans to keep alive in Sochi the true pillars of the Olympic movement– friendship, solidarity and fair play.

BFM: Our athletes are ready to compete, and their focus is on performing their best and enjoying the experience of a lifetime that is the Olympic Games. For us at the USOC, we are going to do what we do best – create an environment in which Team USA athletes can succeed. Our athletes will take it from there.

WSF: Not only are you a USOC executive, but in your past life as a track & field athlete, you won gold in the 100 meter hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Needless to say, your experiences have made you a true Olympic expert. Share with us something the general public might not know about the Games.

BFM: For the most part, these athletes have “been there, done that.” Yes, it’s the Olympic Games; however, to most of these athletes, it’s the same event they’ve done hundreds or thousands of times, against many of the same competitors they’ve competed against for years. Many of them have been to Sochi before for test events, so they know the venues.

Athletes who do really well narrow the Olympics down to just that – something they’ve been doing for most of their lives. It’s just one more skate around the track, one more race down the slopes, one more performance on the ice in a very long list of them. The secret to success is to not get overwhelmed by all of the Olympic pomp and circumstance and to approach this event just like they would any other.

WSF: As President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and a current member of our Board of Trustees, you’ve been involved in our cause for almost two decades. What lessons have you learned in your WSF roles and what experiences do you draw from that aid in your work at the USOC, and vice versa?

BFM: Being involved with the Women’s Sports Foundation early in my professional career helped me appreciate those who had come before me and understand how they paved the way for my success as an athlete and executive. To get to know people like Billie Jean King who from a historical standpoint had such an impact on my life was a blessing to me.

Diversity and inclusion is a key component of my current work at the USOC, and working with the Women’s Sports Foundation was my first taste of gender equity issues. Without that experience, I could not be as effective in my role at the USOC.

Most importantly, I learned to adopt the mantra “athletes first” through my work with the WSF. Athletes really are the lifeblood of sports organizations, and it’s critical to first ask what they need to succeed. You back into everything else from there. That to me is the key to success with the WSF as well as the USOC.

We are proud to call 15 Sochi-bound athletes #TeamWSFinSochi. Stay tuned to WomensSportsFoundation.org and the WSF on Twitter and Facebook for exclusive Olympic content as we track our athletes' progress and hopefully, gold medal wins.