Robert Helmick, the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee since 1985 and chief architect of its steady change from a good-old-boy network to a polished, corporate-style organization, resigned yesterday amid questions about the use of his office for personal gain.
A 54-year-old attorney from Des Moines, Iowa, Helmick led the USOC through a period of sharp growth, during which greater numbers of athletes received more financial support than ever for their Olympic preparations, and revenues nearly tripled to $75 million per year.
But in the course of serving as president, an unpaid position, Helmick continued working as a paid consultant to a variety of clients, like the Turner Broadcasting System, interested in expanding their involvement with the Olympics.
Helmick counseled TBS for four years as the cable network tried to win broadcast rights for international sports events, including the Olympics.
Helmick said last night that he was resigning "with deep regret," but that his decision was a simple one for the "paralyzing" effect his situation was having on the organization.
The business arrangements, which Helmick acknowledged to the Olympic committee earlier this month, raised serious concerns about possible conflicts of interest.
They also led to doubts about his future as an officer of the International Olympic Committee and the USOC's ability to continue raising funds less than five months before the Albertville Winter Games in France.
Helmick's resignation left a huge vacuum at the top of the USOC at a time the executive director, Harvey Schiller, also has come under attack.
Schiller, the organization's paid chief operating officer, was accused earlier this week by the U.S. ski federation of offering additional money in grants in exchange for favors. Schiller denied the accusations.
The controversy involving Schiller and a protracted political campaign over a successor for Helmick, whose term was to expire at the end of next year, were viewed by several other USOC members as additional impediments to fund-raising efforts.
While the procedure for selecting an interim replacement is set forth by the committee's constitution, it is less clear who the replacement might be.
The possibilities include George Steinbrenner, the New York Yankees owner and USOC vice president who has criticized Helmick but says he has no interest in the job, and William Simon, the former USOC president.
"The driving issue was the day-to-day operation of the USOC," said Helmick, explaining his motives. "It was a difficult decision in some respects but very simple. Harvey Schiller and the executive committee have had all their time taken up with this all day long. We can't have that. For all the contributions I have made and can make, it was affecting the operations, and I had no alternative but to resign."
The pressure on Helmick began mounting immediately in the aftermath of his admissions that he had counseled groups eager to increase their involvement in Olympic sports or the Games themselves.