A position on the U.S. Olympic team that used to be about politics and ceremony is now about practicality and performance.
The U.S. Olympic Committee will have chief of sport performance Alan Ashley double as its Chief of Mission at the Sochi Games, as the federation seeks to make the position more functional than honorary.
The Chief of Mission is considered the top-ranking liaison between an Olympic team and Games organizers. The USOC has made it a ceremonial spot in the past, giving the spot to Olympic stars from previous years.
At the USOC board meeting in December, leaders quietly made the decision to put Ashley in the spot — a move that will give the U.S. team one, easily identifiable point person in case issues come up. It also frees up another precious Olympic credential for a team that always struggles to get all its coaches, technicians and trainers in the right places.
"It works from the stand point of really trying to execute on the ground at the highest level for athletes who have spent four, eight, 12 years to get there," Ashley told The Associated Press. "It allows us to do the best job we can for them moving forward."
Ashley, who became chief of sport performance in 2010, will be in Russia next week preparing for the Games, which begin a year from next Thursday.
He'll succeed Teresa Edwards as Chief of Mission. Edwards, a four-time gold medalist on the U.S. basketball team, got the spot for the London Games after 1984 gold medal gymnast Peter Vidmar stepped down following reports about his opposition to gay marriage.
Among the other U.S. Chiefs of Mission have been speed skater and former USOC board member Mike Plant and 1976 track gold medalist Herman Fraizer.