USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus has announced his retirement as of Wednesday afternoon. Wielgus is retiring after serving as Executive Director for nearly 20 years. Despite his contract being extended through 2020, his retirement will be effective on August 31st, 2017.
With his 19 years of service, Wielgus is the longest-tenured chief executive of an Olympic national governing body. He has also served as the Chief Executive Officer of the USA Swimming Foundation since it came to fruition in 2004.USA Swimming has released the following statement from Wielgus regarding his retirement:
“This has been a long and difficult decision because I love USA Swimming and I have always approached my role with enthusiasm and passion. It has been an honor and a privilege to walk through the doors every day at USA Swimming with our dedicated and talented staff and work in service to our athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers who comprise the membership of our wonderful organization,” Wielgus said. “I believe with all my heart that USA Swimming’s best years are ahead. I am confident that the work we have done these past two decades has established a firm foundation upon which future growth can occur.”
Wielgus’ time as Executive Director has been marked by both success and difficulties. One of those difficulties has been a battle with cancer. In 2007, Wielgus had fought off stage 3 colon cancer, but it came back in 2012 and progressed to stage 4. Wielgus is on lifelong chemotherapy, getting treatments every 2 weeks.
Another primary challenge embattling Wielgus has been the issue of sexual abuse, as the organization has faced several cases in which young athletes were abused by coaches. Nothing was done about the sex abuse issue until a 20/20 report exposed the breadth of such cases. It was also exposed by the AP that USA Swimming wrote former Executive Director Everett Uchiyama a glowing recommendation for an Aquatics Director position, even after learning that Uchiyama had been banned for alleged sexual misconduct with a swimmer.
Wielgus did, however, oversee the implementation of the SafeSport program, and in the 5 years since the 20/20 report came out, many long-known sexual abusers have been banned form the sport.
Despite criticisms in light of the sex abuse issues, John Leonard of the American Swim Coaches Association stands in support of Wielgus. Leonard said, “I don’t believe in him because he’s been perfect. I believe in him because he hasn’t. And he hasn’t because he has (largely) taken on the HARD stuff.”
While Wielgus has recieved criticism, he’s also been recognized for his success. Under Wielgus, the USA Swimming Foundation was launched, which has led to events such as the Golden Goggle Awards and programs such as the Make-A-Splash program. He’s also seen substantial growth in the U.S. Olympic Trials event, which is now held in a 17,000-seat basketball arena.
Others have spoken out to express support and gratitude, including Scott Blackmun, the United States Olympic Committee Chief Executive Officer. Blackmun released the following statement:
“Swimming in the United States has never been stronger, and that is because of Chuck. He is a true sportsman, loving sport for how it makes us feel and how it brings us together. We are grateful for our successes together and look forward to seeing his good work make a difference in the lives of athletes for many years to come.”