Made The Big Time - I'm In Trouble With The USOC

I received a phone call the other morning.  I didn't recognize the phone number, but it was here in Colorado Springs.  Upon answering I was told I was speaking to an individual at the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and they were concerned over a picture, and some verbiage, on my coaching web site, and Facebook page.

I had used a picture of the Olympic Training Center pool to promote my swim club on Facebook. It was taken well over a year ago while taking my nephew and Mother-in-law on a tour of the OTC, (where I am a coach of record for a swim club).  Nobody was in the pool at the time. But, apparently, using that photo could lead someone to think that I was offering services at the OTC.  More importantly, I did not have permission from the USOC to use the photo.  Fair enough - I should have known better (really, I should have) and told the individual that I'd take the photo down immediately.

But then things got interesting.  There was also concern over my use of the phrase "Olympic distance training plan" on my coaching website.  I was told that the use of the word "Olympic" was not permitted, and I needed to remove or change that word on my web site immediately.


The person on the phone didn't do the best job at explaining it at the time, but it was clear that I needed to make the requested changes.  I stated that I would do as they asked and that I'd email them when complete (at their request - so they can "sign off").

I did a quick Google search (wait, is it okay for me to use the term "Google"?) for "Olympic distance training plans".  All these sites below (and many more) offer or reference an "Olympic" distance plan or race:

Womens Health Magazine
Tri Radar
Beginner Triathlete
Tri Fuel
DC Rainmaker
Training Peaks
Mark Allen Online
Rev 3

And the list goes on......But let me say that I'm in no way trying to get anyone in trouble.  I'm not saying "...well, if you're going to go after me, why not everyone else?" My point is that most everyone uses this term.  It's used in common language.

And trust me when I tell you, I'm a small fish compared to the above listed groups. Combined, between Facebook and Twitter, I have maybe 400 followers. I have a small swim club that I'm trying to grow. The goal of my above-mentioned post was to draw a few more athletes.  So what's the deal here?

Someone at the USOC saw the picture I posted and decided to see what else I had on my Facebook page and website.  Fair enough.  I completely admit I was wrong in using the picture as I did.  But using the word "Olympic" isn't allowed?  It's interesting that most race directors use the term "Olympic Distance" when they list a race.  Athletes say they race "Olympic Distance" triathlons.  But I can't offer an "Olympic Distance" training plan?

Apparently, in 1978 Congress empowered the USOC to enforce its exclusive use of everything "Olympic".  Not only images (the Olympic Rings) but the word itself.  This Act was revised again in 1998 (Look up the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act)

And the USOC isn't joking around here.  A little digging on the inter-webs shows that the USOC takes its intellectual property very seriously. Below are some articles discussing individuals and groups that have come under fire from the USOC legal team.  I only list four examples - and only one of them is from a significantly large company.  (If you don't want to read the entire article, a brief synopsis is below each link).
Olympic National Park Ranger creates a 64-page, $10, pamphlet for tourists exploring the Olympic Peninsula titled "Best of the Olympic Peninsula". The use of the word "Olympic" was challenged by the USOC.  Lawsuit threatened.
Knitting and sewing community and social network Ravelry created the "Ravelympics" to encourage knitters to create and work on projects while watching the actual Olympic Games.  Cease and Desist letter sent by the USOC.
American Girl Place stores in Chicago and New York have an Olympic themed window display with dolls in "USA" uniforms - gymnasts and soccer players with medals around their necks. Trademark law violations cited by the USOC.  In this case Mattel should have known better - they used to be an Olympic Committee sponsor.
Olympic Cellars Winery, in Port Angeles WA, has sales of Olympic Cellars branded wines restricted to the Olympic Peninsula and cannot grow that brand (if I'm reading the settlement details correctly). Wines branded under different names are exempt of the restriction.

I'm sure there are some groups or individuals that indeed do exploit Olympic imagery. But in a lot of the instances that I found online, it seems like an awful lot of money is being spent by a non profit organization to go after people for relatively innocuous infractions.

Yes, the USOC is indeed a non profit.  If I were to donate money to the USOC, how do I ensure that I'm funding athletes on their journey to the Olympic Games, and not operational and legal expenses?  Yes, I'm exaggerating a bit here, but I think that my point is valid.

In closing: I have training plans for athletes who want to swim 1.5 kilometers, bike 40 kilometers, and run 10 kilometers.  Also known as the race distance athletes race in the Olympic Games.  I won't call it that here.....otherwise I might be breaking the law.