Cronyism and Politics go for Gold

Fans are outraged over USA Triathlon’s selection (or lack of a selection) of the 3rd and final slot for the US women’s triathlon Olympic squad. You all know the story: three men have been selected by this great nation to compete in the Olympic games in Rio. Two women (Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah True) qualified automatically, and a third slot is available. 

This leaves a medal contender ranked #5 in the world for 2015, Katie Zaferes, waiting by the phone while a committee selected by a committee decides if she will go to the Olympics. This selection will then be approved by another committee.

I’m not kidding. This is actually happening. Listen to this for more details:


Over the weekend, I ridiculed USA Triathlon President, Barry Siff, for his tone-deaf and inappropriate promotion of a running shoe company that dovetailed a week or so of Canadian vacation photos.

“Nothing to see here, folks. I’m on vacation. Not at all involved in this ridiculous selection process. Did I mention I’m on vacation? Newtons rule!”

From my chair, it’s totally unacceptable for Barry to leverage his elected position for personal sponsorship deals. Can you imagine President Barry Obama starring in a Chevrolet commercial? 


Some have speculated that the Jorgensen camp is behind this. Our reporting has not found evidence to support this theory. That said, we have been turned down repeatedly by USAT when requesting interviews and comments.

Certainly, Gwen is the favorite for gold in Rio. It would be a tremendous achievement for USA Triathlon to win a gold medal. World Triathlon commentator Barrie Shepley called this idea of an American winning a gold medal the best thing that could ever happen to triathlon (paraphrasing).

Gwen Jorgensen might benefit from a domestique if one were both eligible and qualified. If a domestique can swim fast enough to make the front group and if she possesses superior bike riding skills, she can shepherd Gwen on the bike course and help out if shit hits the fan. No one seems to fit that criteria. Sarah Haskins does meet this criteria, but she is ineligible. 

Gwen also benefits by eliminating a contender, especially a competitor that has a plausible chance of beating her under the right circumstances. Let there be no confusion, Katie Zaferes is a legitimate medal contender and a possible threat. 

Now, if her camp is advocating for a domestique, I wouldn’t criticize them for their position. Any self-interested competitor would want the same. There’s no evidence that this is the case, but if it were, I wouldn’t hold it against Gwen. My problem is with the bureaucracy that dares to consider leaving an athlete ranked 5th in the world at home. 

Conflict of Interest

Barry Siff’s hiding behind promotional and vacation posts is nothing compared to the conflict of interest happening a level above him. The CEO of USA Triathlon is Rob Urbach, named by Inside Triathlon in 2013 as the most influential man in triathlon. 

Prior to joining USAT, Rob worked as a sports marketer and manager for 10+ years. His most recent sports marketing position was that of Executive Vice President of a firm called Octagon from 2005-2009, according to his LinkedIn profile

Who Does Octagon represent? Well, they represent Michael Phelps and Steph Curry. The also represent a very fast triathlete. Can you guess who I might be taking about? 

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

Octagon represents Gwen Jorgensen. 

We established Gwen’s motive for keeping Katie Zaferes out of Brazil:

  • A domestique may be helpful
  • Eliminate a rival

We now have a motive for the CEO of USAT to keep Katie out of Brazil: 

  • friendship
  • loyalty
  • cronyism

The most embarrassing thing happening in US politics isn’t Donald Trump. It’s the lunacy, incompetence and ethical vacuum that is USA Triathlon. 


About the Author

BH is Publisher of TRS Triathlon and host of TRS Radio.