USA Track & Field CEO Max Siegel On the 2020 Summer Olympics Games and The Future of USATF

On the 202nd episode of “Listen In With KNN” sports talk radio/podcast show presented by FOX Sports Radio 1340AM/96.9 FM, executive producer and host Kelsey Nicole Nelson welcomed special guest Max Siegel, the CEO of USA Track & Field, to the show.

In addition to leading USATF, Siegel is an author of three books and a film and television producer. He’s also an attorney and NASCAR team owner of Rev Racing. Adding to an already stellar and impressive background, Siegel is also the first African American to graduate with honors from Notre Dame Law School.

Siegel became the fourth CEO of USATF on May 1, 2012, after serving on the organization’s board. Nearly ten years later, he is still excited about the growth of the sport and has fulfilled the goals he set when he first entered the position. “The first thing that we did as soon as we got there was take a look at the organization and said listen, ‘we’re the number one track and field team in the world and I wanted to take a look at the business and the structure and make sure that we had the business side world-class like our athletes,” said Siegel.

USATF has continued to grow immensely. Some of the metrics Siegel is most proud of are increasing funding by 300%, creating a revenue distribution plan, and an increase in television viewership. “We set goals that were both quantifiable and qualitative to make sure we would become the number one governing body globally by a bunch of metrics,” said Siegel.

Speaking of the growth of USATF, Siegel and Nelson also spoke about how he wants all to know that track and field is more than just the summer Olympic games that many look forward to. Each year, there are either indoor or outdoor championships that track and field athletes compete in. “The world-class athletes put in so much time in terms of their development and training with years and years of dedication. Many people don’t realize that there’s an indoor season and an outdoor season which are all global in nature, [and] televised,” explained Siegel. 

50% of the team are brand new athletes. “For me, it’s really incredible to watch the young athletes develop and have such a deep, rich bench of talent. I’m really excited to see how they all perform at the world championships this year,” said Siegel.

Each year, USATF welcomes in new talent. Nelson asked Siegel what USATF looks for in new athletes to the sport. Siegel replied, “Most definitely hard work, focus, dedication, great support system—coaching is incredibly important, and surrounding yourself with a really big team.”

Siegel added that the sport is something you can start from an early age and continue until you’re older. “What I love about the sport is you can participate in the sport from the time that you’re a youth all the way up to our masters athletes. In fact, it makes us really proud when we look at ESPN and we have our 100-year-olds setting world records. So it is a sport you can enjoy and compete competitively your entire life,” said Siegel.

As the two discussed competition, the conversation transitioned to the most recent Olympic Games. During the 2020 summer Olympics that took place in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the USATF team earned 26 medals: seven gold, 12 silver, and seven bronze. 

The road getting to Tokyo was not an easy one given the COVID-19 pandemic and all the restrictions that came with it. “The thing that made me the most proud, that most people didn’t see, was the entire support staff to get our athletes over to Tokyo in a safe manner. It was just a logistical task to get everyone over there safe,” said Siegel. He’s very thankful for all the managers, trainers, and staff for all they did in preparation. 

USATF prepared their athletes before the Olympic Games so they could be best prepared once it came time to compete. “We had an amazing COVID working group, which they still monitor and give guidelines. Immediately when COVID hit, the team went to work. They went to work to figure out what we can do from mental health support, training, so we did a number of things during the pandemic,” said Siegel. Some of the things USATF was able to do prior to the Olympic Games included giving athletes stipends for equipment and financial obligations, extra emotional support, and activities for them to keep their minds off the uncertainty in the world.

Additionally, USATF created the “Journey to Gold” series as another way to prepare their athletes for competition. Some priorities of the series were for the athletes to have the opportunity to score higher in the World Athletics Rankings and become familiar with the testing protocols in Tokyo. “We had meets domestically where our athletes competed without fans in a safe space and then they got used to our testing protocol,” said Siegel. BD is USATF’s corporate COVID-19 testing sponsor who helped them throughout the series. They provided the team with rapid tests to ensure the safest environment possible.

While adhering to safety protocols, one of the USATF icons we got to witness compete and make history is Allyson Felix. During the summer Olympic Games, Felix became the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history. She also became the American with the most medals. Siegel is very happy about Felix’s continued success. “Allyson is a tremendous human being and a great, great global ambassador of the sport. To see how hard she has worked her entire career, she has a devotion, a dedication, and her selflessness in Tokyo to be a part of the team, it was just a wonderful thing to experience and be there at that moment,” said Siegel.

Another headline involving USATF from the summer was the banning of sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson. The 100-meter favorite was banned by the U.S. Anti-doping Agency (USADA) from competing in the games after testing positive for THC. Richardson said she had lost her mother and it helped her cope with the loss. 

Siegel addressed the topic with Nelson. “First of all, she has been tremendous in terms of how she managed the entire situation and so I have to give Sha’Carri a lot of credit…USA Track and Field itself is not the governing body that makes the decision. We do have selection criteria and rules in terms of how people can compete. So once Sha’Carri had been issued the ban by the USADA, it’s the federation’s responsibility to enforce it,” said Siegel.

This story is coming back because of the recent news of Russian skater Kamila Valieva testing positive for trimetazidine in December 2021. She has been allowed to compete in the Winter Olympics because she is a minor and has tested negative for it while being in Beijing.

Richardson has responded to this and doesn’t understand the difference. “The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady,” tweeted Richardson. Many continue to follow this story pointing out the differences in treatment. 

On the horizon are the 2022 USATF Indoor Championships which will be held later this month on February 26-27, 2022 at The Podium in Washington state. You can also visit their site here for more events happening in 2022. 

You can follow USATF on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Siegel can be found on Twitter and Facebook

Laura Blanco