CHICAGO — Last month, Herb Perez was notified that he was one of a handful of U.S. Olympians who would be honored for his athletic achievements in a ceremony at next week's Titan Games, a mini-sports festival created by Lloyd Ward, chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Perez won a gold medal in taekwondo at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, when it was a demonstration sport. He has since become an athletes' rights activist and has served in a variety of influential USOC posts, including the executive committee.
Last month, that committee voted, 18-3, to take no disciplinary action against Ward in the wake of an ethics-related inquiry into the CEO's conduct. Perez was one of the three. Now he has been notified that he will not be honored at the Titan Games.
" ... This smells of petty politics," Perez wrote Tuesday in an e-mail, obtained by The Times, to Ward and other USOC officials.
As the executive committee convenes here today for a meeting amid management instability so intense Congress has signaled an intent to make over the USOC's structure, it remains unclear whether the committee's leadership has the will -- or the interest -- in rising above the political infighting.
The meeting this weekend crystallizes the oft-errant focus of USOC leadership. Instead of heading to Utah to reflect on the glow of the Salt Lake Winter Olympics, where U.S. athletes won a team-record 34 medals and where local organizers have planned a gala one-year anniversary weekend, senior USOC officials will be huddling in an airport hotel conference room amid politics galore.
The weekend meeting comes between a Jan. 28 U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing into the USOC's tumult and another Senate hearing set for next week. Tuesday, Marty Mankamyer, the USOC's president, resigned. She was accused of trying to undermine Ward, which she denied.
Five others also have resigned their USOC posts in recent weeks -- including ethics compliance officer Patrick J. Rodgers -- in the aftermath of the ethics inquiry into Ward's move last year directing USOC staff to help a company with ties to his brother that was trying to win a contract for the 2003 Pan American Games. A USOC ethics board report found two violations but recommended no disciplinary action. The executive committee took none.
Bill Martin, athletic director at the University of Michigan, is interim president. He said Friday that he won't stay in the job long because he has too much to do at Michigan.
Seven of the USOC's ranking officials, including five vice presidents, had called two weeks ago for Mankamyer's resignation. Had she not stepped down, they had planned to pursue a no-confidence vote here. It remains unclear what mandate -- or authority -- they believed they had to initiate such unprecedented actions.
In the aftermath of Mankamyer's resignation, questions about Ward's future have intensified. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) suggested this week in the Denver Post that it would be "difficult" for the USOC if "they don't start with a clean slate."
Ward could not be reached Friday for comment. He told the Senate last week: "It is time for us to reach for a better tomorrow. We have to move beyond political agendas, personal self-interest, and we have to start to serve the greater good."
Unclear is how such remarks jibe with, for instance, a move to revoke Perez's award as an "Olympic Titan." Even more jarring is that just last November, at the USOC's 120-member board of directors meeting, Perez was given the newly created George Steinbrenner Award for work he'd done in helping athletes from war-torn Afghanistan pursue sports training.
In a letter dated Jan. 13, Perez, 43, was notified that he -- along with other Olympians such as wrestler Dan Gable and fencer Peter Westbrook -- had been selected as one of the "Olympic Titan" honorees. Long before, nominees had been put forward by the federations that oversee their sports -- in Perez's case, the U.S. Taekwondo Union.
That same day came the 18-3 executive committee vote. Perez has since played a recurring role in inquiring into Ward's accountability for what the CEO has called an "error in judgment."
Earlier this week, Steve Brunner, a USOC marketing official, notified Perez that he was out as an original "Olympic Titan." Taking Perez's place would be Steve Lopez, who won a gold medal in taekwondo at the 2000 Games. Brunner did not return calls seeking comment.
Perez said Friday he hesitated to speak on the issue because he didn't want to be seen as critical of Lopez, whom he called "my brother." He finally said: "If you've received an award because of your [athletic] performance, why should that become an award that is politicized?"