CHICAGO (AP) _ As fascinating as the U.S. Olympic Committee's constant squabbles and scandals are, its members really would like to get back to their normal business.
Like winning medals. Making sure U.S. athletes have the resources and facilities they need. And getting ready for an Athens Olympics that is a mere 18 months away.
But they're going to have to find a way out of their latest mess first. The USOC executive committee is hoping that cleanup will start at a meeting Saturday, as the search begins for yet another new president.
``I'm optimistic that we'll come out of this with a much-improved USOC,'' Paul George, a vice president, said Thursday. ``We've been through tough times before. I'm confident that we'll come through this _ probably considerably changed, but I'm confident we'll come through it.''
The USOC has been immersed in scandal since the beginning of the year, when conflict-of-interest charges against chief executive officer Lloyd Ward first surfaced. Accusations have been hurled back and forth, with enough dirt to feed a tabloid.
Congress even got into the act, calling a hearing last week and telling the USOC to clean up its act.
The latest installment in the saga occurred Tuesday, when president Marty Mankamyer resigned. Colleagues claimed she'd been working behind the scenes to oust Ward, hoping to gain more power.
``Yes, the rings have dulled a little bit and it's our job to restore their luster,'' said Bill Martin, who was appointed interim president of the USOC.
But can the USOC do it? Since 2000, the organization has had four presidents and CEOs, generating an almost constant state of turmoil. Indeed, it seems as if the USOC no sooner hires one executive when it pushes another out the door.
``We need continuity and stability in our leadership,'' Martin agreed. ``We can't continue to have revolving doors, somebody in, somebody out. We need continuity, stability and strong leaders.''
Though a nominating committee hasn't been formed yet, a few names have already emerged as possible candidates for president. And Martin, vice president-secretariat, is at the top of many lists.
New to the executive committee _ he's only been to one meeting so far _ Martin has already impressed colleagues with his evenhanded manner and ability to take charge and delegate.
He also has a unique knowledge of the problems and challenges facing the USOC, having gone through a somewhat similar situation when he became athletic director at Michigan.
There's just one problem. Martin doesn't want the job permanently.
``That's a volunteer position, and given the current situation and the time and focus it needs, it would not be fair to the University of Michigan for me to pursue it on a full-time basis,'' Martin said.
``If the Olympics and the USOC were humming along, it might be different, but I just can't do both jobs and be fair to the University of Michigan.''
While there's no timetable for hiring a new president, Martin said he thinks it can be done before the USOC board meets in April.
That will leave the USOC plenty of time to focus on its other issues. Like Ward's future.
Ward received a mild reprimand from the executive committee Jan. 13 after he was accused of pushing for a USOC-related contract for his brother's company. Five USOC members resigned in protest.
While Ward appears to have the executive committee's support, others have said he should resign. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, one of five senators investigating the turmoil within the committee, was one of them.
Ward declined comment Thursday, saying he would talk after the meeting Saturday.
``(The meeting) is a healing process, it's a coming together,'' Martin said. ``I want us to go out of that meeting feeling good. I want to make certain the American public understands that we understand and are focusing on our mission.''
Then there's the Congressional investigation. Another hearing is scheduled for next Thursday morning, with senators expected to hear suggestions on how to reform the USOC's unwieldy structure.
Campbell, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ted Stevens are also expected to make a trip to USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., within the next few weeks.
``I want Washington to know that we hear them, we want to be a part of the reorganization, the restructuring effort,'' Martin said. ``We want to be partners with them. We don't want to be considered a problem any longer.''