Certain brands and orgs are consequential to what we do, among them each country’s national governing body. USA Triathlon is the NGB for triathlon in the U.S., and it was a big deal when Rocky Harris took over the leadership of that org back in 2017. He distinguished himself as a reformer, a bridge builder, a modernizer and I’ve never seen an executive director or CEO during the almost-40 years of USA Triathlon (and its precursors) who has been so universally loved and respected. But alas, he’s leaving.
Harris is taking a role with USOPC, chief of sport and athlete services. Also under his purview are all the NGBs under the USOPC umbrella. He will be judged based on the performance of our teams at the Olympics and World Championships; and by the execution of the relationships between the USOPC and the 50-or-so NGBs; and by the performance of the various training centers USOPC maintains. Under Harris is roughly half the 500-plus employee count at USOPC, and half its budget.
The last note about Rocky Harris: While he is one of a number of direct reports to CEO Sarah Hirshland, calling him the new number-2 person at the USOPC is defensible. The search for this position commenced in April and I can only imagine the number and quality of the applicants for this job. For the USOPC to choose Harris is not surprising, because of the quality of the man and of the organization. I have maintained that for the last decade USAT has been one of the top half-dozen strongest and best-run NGBs under the USOPC, and I think the choice of Harris for this post underscores that.
What happens now? One of the early decisions of consequence Rocky Harris made was to hire Victoria Brumfield, hiring her as Chief Of Staff of USAT in 2018. During the pandemic she took on additional duties. Her current title at USA Triathlon is Chief Business Development Officer & Chief of Staff. Because of my faith in USAT’s Board I trust it to choose a capable leader. Just, USAT has never promoted this position from within (to my recollection). Both Tim Yount and Vic Brumfield have earned the right to be considered. I like Vic for the job because she’s the person who worked side-by-side with Harris and – as good as he was – in my experience Vic was his secret weapon.
Beyond Vic’s own experience and qualifications we’ve never had a woman run USAT and it seems time we do. (We've had women as Board chairs, but not as the CEO.) Women have been the engine fueling growth in endurance sport this century and, quite frankly, women have a skill men don’t have for having fun in triathlon and for making triathlon fun. If you’re in Kona, sit at mile-24 of the run for a couple of hours, right around the 12 or 13 hour mark. (It’s the best place to be during that race.) Look at the faces of those nearing the finish. The men are grimacing; the women wear big smiles. And by the way, women have always produced that Kona race.
The typical path is for USAT is to hire a hard charging male who sails in to save the day from some coastal edge of the country. My instinct tells me that men have taken USA Triathlon about as far as they can take it, and it might be time to hand the baton off to someone better equipped to take it to the next level. It's the Board's choice and I trust them but if they choose Victoria Brumfield USAT gets a top quality person and a rare executive talent. And it can save money on the furniture movers.