William E. Simon, the new president of the United States Olympic Committee, says his "first and overriding goal" is to field the best US teams ever in 1984. Furthermore, the former secretary of the Treasury says, he thinks this country has a chance to regain the athletic spotlight which the Soviet Union and East Germany have lately wrested from it.
"But it's going to take more than talk to produce these 'greatest ever' teams ," Simon told the USOC's House of Delegates, outlining an ambitious five-point program for the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, and the Summer Games in Los Angeles. And he indicated that now is the time to begin.
Simon's proposals are:
1. Early appointment of coaches.
2. Selection of highly talented athletes for the National Sports Festivals of 1981-82-83.
3. Early selection of training squads in the team sports.
4. Identification this year of a nucleus of a squad for each of the individual sports (for example, he said, sports like track and field or swimming could identify the top 10 in each event and make plans for special training).
5. Full use of the USOC's "sports medicine" program, which is designed to maximize athletic skills via use of the latest scientific techniques and equipment.
Simon noted the success certain sports had achieved by such planning. He said women's volleyball moved in 2 1/2 years from no world ranking to the top three; women's field hockey from No. 11 to No. 3 in two years; the ice hockey team from seventh in the world to the Olympic gold medal; and men's gymnastics from sixth or seventh to No. 3.
"These kinds of achievements are there for the asking," he said.
Asked if this amounted to taking a page from the East German's book, he demurred.
"I don't think it's a valid comparison," he said. "They're a regimented society, and we're a free one. It's totally different."
He agreed, however, that it makes sense to study any successful program and incorporate its best aspects into your own if feasible.
Simon, who served as Treasury secretary in both the Nixon and Ford administrations and was active in President Reagan's election campaign, was prominently mentioned last fall for a return to the Cabinet, but eventually withdrew his name from consideration.
"Sure I'll be in close contact," he said in the course of a pair of wide-ranging interviews here. "President Reagan is a great personal friend. I worked very hard to help him get elected. He's asked me to do a couple of things for him, which I'll be happy to do."
Simon's experience in government and business were undoubtedly factors in his election at a time when fund raising is of paramount importance, as indicated by the record $71.2 million budget approved by the House of Delegates. He expressed optimism about raising the funds in addition to improving performance on the field, citing what he sees as a general upbeat mood in the nation at large.
"We sort of lost our way some time ago," he said. "People sort of lost respect for the things we grew up respecting -- institutions like the government , the military, religion. But if we really are embarking new era of confidence now, and gaining new respect for our institutions, we have a chance to turn a lot of things around. And I think this will be reflected in an athletic sense, too."
But realistically, does this include catching up to the Soviets and East Germans, who have dominated recent Olympics?
"Sure it does," he said. "We have things we never had before, like the training center concept, the sports medicine program, and better competitive opportunities."
On the Moscow boycott, which he supported in an eloquent speech here last April just before the delegates voted (he has been involved with the USOC for 15 years and was its treasurer at the time), he said:
"I strongly supported the position that when the President of the United States asks us to do something for reasons of national security, 'ours not to reason why.' It was a tragic thing, obviously. But in my judgment we have emerged stronger and more united than ever before."
He said he still didn't quarrel with decision, but only with the way it was carried out -- particularly the failure to get several major US allies to go along.
"The United States is a nation of many levers -- things like NATO forces, our financial institutions, foreign aid, exports -- and we should have been prepared to use them," he said. "It's called hardball."
On the amateur-professional question, and the efforts by some to have an "open" Olympics, he takes the more traditional view.
"If Eastern European countries have athletes who are subsidized by the state and don't fall into the definition of professional, so be it," he said. "That's not our way of life."
"As for subsidization, you could say that about many of our athletes, too -- those in the armed forces, those in college. But with out- and-out pros, it's different. We know the rules, and that's that. I wouldn't want us to have their way of life.
"So we should try to have the best team we can, and do the best we can. You always want to win, of course, but remember the primary goal is not winning the most gold medals. The object is to compete, to try, to do your best."
Simon swam in high school and was good enough to compete in an event called the Pacific Olympics in Tokyo in 1947, before the reinstatement of the Games themselves after World War II. After that, the demands of working his way through college, marriage, a family, and his swift rise up the business and governmental ladders confined his athletic activity to the recreational variety, but he remains keenly interested in sports, both as a participant and spectator.
His involvement with the USOC began in the 1960s as a fund-raiser, and he has been a key factor in the dramatic improvement in the organization's financial status since then.
"We used to dream about things like training centers, or the chance to be self-sufficient and self-funding," he said. "Back then, it was all we could do to train world-class athletes. Now we can do so much more."
Noting that the original $25 million budget for 1977-80 wound up at about $49 million because of various factors including inflation, and that the new one might also rise above its current figure, Simon said he remains confident of the USOC's ability to raise whatever amount is needed.
"In financial matters I'm conservative," he said. "I've been a banker all my life. But the numbers are good, and I think I've gauged the mood of the country correctly.
"This is an optimistic time nationwide, and certainly there's great enthusiasm for sports. TV brings more and more of it to the people, including amateur sports. I think by the time of Los Angeles you're going to see a real fervor in this country."
"I don't want to wish our lives to race by too fast," he added, "but personally, I can't wait for 1984."