By Tom Degun

Tom Degun_Innsbruck_2012The Organising Committee for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics can consider themselves extremely fortunate that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has named a Coordination Commission of huge experience to help the South Korean city with their preparations for the Games.

The 11-person Commission will be chaired by Sweden's Gunilla Lindberg, who was part of the Coordination Commission for the Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.

She is also part of the Commission for Sochi 2014, which is still in working mode.

Also involved with the Pyeongchang 2018 project are International Ski Federation (FIS) President Gian-Franco Kasper of Switzerland and his compatriot René Fasel, President of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

But perhaps the athletes who will compete in Pyeongchang in six years time will be best served by two of the younger members of the Commission. The first is British bob skeleton rider Adam Pengilly, a man who still competes and, therefore, knows all the criteria involved in staging a great winter sport competition. And the second, it is no exaggeration to say, is one of the greatest female winter sport athletes of all time.

Her name is Angela Ruggiero and she comes from California in the United States.

The 32-year-old is a four-time Olympic medallist and a three-time World Champion in the sport of ice hockey. She retired from competition at the end of last year to concentrate on her work in sports administration after 16 years as a competitor.

The Harvard University politicial science graduate was just 18 when she won Olympic gold with the US team in 1998 – when women's ice hockey made its debut on the Games programme in Nagano – and she followed it up by claiming Olympic silver at Salt Lake City in 2002, bronze at Turin in 2006 and silver again at Vancouver in 2010.

The former defenceman finished her career having recorded 208 points for the US team, including an exceptional 67 goals and 141 assists.

But despite having only just retired, Ruggiero already looks set for big things in the world of sports administration. This became apparent during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics when she was nominated by her fellow sportsmen and women, along with Pengilly, as one of the 12 elected members on the IOC's Athlete's Commission. The nomination means that the American is guaranteed full IOC membership until 2018, and in just two short years, she has already been highlighted as one of the rising stars in the world of sporting powerbrokers.

Angela Ruggiero_IOC_March_18
This was evident when she when she joined the IOC Entourage Commission and the United States Olympic Committee's (USOC) Board of Directors in 2010 before being appointed to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Board of Directors last year. It was earlier this month that Ruggiero's growing prominence in the IOC became apparent to all when she was named as chair for the IOC Coordination Commission for the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics in Lillehammer.

I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with Ruggiero at the recent inaugural Winter Youth Olympics and Paralympics in Innsbruck. I found myself in the company of a funny, talkative and charming individual who was very humbled and exited to be part of the IOC team heading to Pyeongchang to help with the 2018 preparations.

"I was part of the 2018 Evaluation Commission where I got see all the bids for the Games and that was a great experience for me," she said.

"So it will be really special to see the Pyeongchang bid change and go through the step-by-step process of organising for the 2018 Winter Games.

"As an athlete, you just show up.

"You are there for a few weeks and you feel that it is amazing to compete at an Olympics.

"But you don't realise the years that go into the preparations and all of the people and the budget that goes into making it happen.

"I think that is a good thing though because if you were worrying about that as an athlete, then you wouldn't be focusing on your sport.

"The fact that the Organising Committee and the IOC do a great job in ensuring that the athletes have nothing else to concern themselves with except sport.

"It is kind of like with ice hockey; if you don't notice the referee, they are probably doing a good job!

Angela Ruggiero_March_18
"So it is great to be involved and great for me to have a chance to see the whole backstory that goes into the event."

The Commission visit to Pyeongchang will actually be one of Ruggiero's first major tasks as an IOC member. She already admits that she misses her game but explained that after a hugely successful career, she is now looking forward to concentrating entirely on her new role in sport.

"I'll always miss hockey," she smiles.

"It was obviously a big decision for me.

"I could continue to play, to compete and to go to Sochi 2014 as an athlete but what I am doing with the IOC, the USOC and in international sport; it is more powerful in a sense because I really have an opportunity to make a difference.

"It isn't about me, it is about young athletes and it is great to be able to speak for them and give something back to sport.

"I feel really lucky to have this responsibility, which was actually given to me by the athletes that elected me to the IOC's Athlete's Commission.

"To be honest, being an IOC member is much more intense than I imagined it would be.

"It is obviously an international organisation and that means a lot of travel.

"It is not like in America where you have a lot of short trips.

"Working in the IOC, I find myself flying to places like Africa, like Korea, like Austria, all over.

"But you need to do that travel to really be part of the organisation and to really contribute.

"I've tried to do that and I feel like I have a responsibility to do that.

"But it is worth it and to work for an organisation that really does shape the landscape of sport is brilliant.

"There are a lot of great people in the IOC and a lot of amazing veterans and senior IOC members that I love talking to hear what they have been able to do for sport.

Angela Ruggiero3_March18
"It is really inspiring."

Looking ahead beyond the 2018 Games, Ruggiero could prove more than an interested spectator in the bid process for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics with a number of American cities, including Denver in Colorado, mooting a bid for the competition.

However, when it comes to the United States and the Olympic Movement, things are not overly simple because Scott Blackmun, the USOC chief executive, has explained that his organisation will not bid again until they have concluded a deal on revenue-sharing with the IOC.

The longstanding disagreement over revenue sharing currently sees the USOC receive a 20 per cent share of global sponsorship revenues from the Olympics and Paralympics as well as a 12.75 per cent cut of the US broadcast rights deals, but the IOC wants more of that money.

Negotiations on the issue were fast-tracked last summer in an attempt to reach an agreement in time for the USOC to meet the September deadline to bid for 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics – but a deal was not reached.

A Games in an American city in 2022 would mark exactly 20 years since the United States last hosted the Olympics and Paralympics which were in 2002 in Salt Lake City, but the USOC has not forgotten their last two humiliating unsuccessful bids for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and Paralympics, when both New York City and Chicago were comprehensively beaten by London and Rio de Janeiro respectively.

Should a bid go ahead, Ruggiero would undoubtedly prove one of the America's most powerful assets in bringing the event to the country but she admits that there is work ahead for a 2022 bid to be submitted.

"I think every country would love to host the Games," she said.

"But as far as an Olympics in America go, I think the goal is really to get to a point [on revenue-sharing] where everyone is happy and where we are in a position whereby, if we bid, everyone understands that we want to contribute to the Olympic Movement.

"We have been fortunate enough to host the event several times in the past.

"I was actually lucky enough to compete at home at Salt Lake City and it was a very special feeling.

-Angela-Ruggieros 16_March_
"But we are being patient.

"There are other ways to contribute to the Olympic Movement and we are continuing to show at the USOC that we want to be involved.

"It obviously doesn't help when you bid and you are unsuccessful like with Chicago when we were eliminated in the first round of voting.

"There was a lot of negative press after that.

"I think for the good of the Movement in the US, it would be great if we could get the Games soon, but we are not thrusting that point.

"We want to get this revenue sharing agreement done and then at that point, we could really think properly about a bid."

In 2005 Ruggiero wrote her autobiogrphy, "Breaking the Ice: My Journey to Olympic Hockey, the Ivy League & Beyond", published by Drummond Publishing Group. The book detailed her hockey career, including her experiences with misconceptions about women's hockey and the challenges of being a female player in a male-dominated sport.

But, for all her achievements on the ice and increasingly in sports administration, Ruggiero is still probably best known in the US for her appearance on the sixth series of The Apprentice, which is hosted by billionaire Donald Trump and which was shown in 2007.

Angela Ruggiero_on_The_Apprentice
Ruggiero did impressively well, reaching week 10 before hearing the words "you're fired".

"I've always had an entrepreneurial bug, I guess," she said. 

"When I was a kid I used to make 75 cents on the dollar selling bubble gum and during the [2006 Turin] Olympics there was actually an online poll that America can vote for their favorite Olympic athletes and there were 12 of us on the ballot. 

"And I got a call right after the Olympics were over and they had said, 'You won, you got the most votes" and asked me if I wanted to be a contestant on the season six Apprentice and I definitely jumped at the opportunity.'"

Afterwards she even got a job offer from Trump only to turn it down because at the time she wanted to concentrate on preparing for the Olympics in Vancouver.

"I think everyone thought I was crazy for turning it down," she said. "But inside of me I knew that the Olympics were still there. I was still young enough. I knew that once I transitioned out of hockey, it would be really hard to go back."

Ruggiero admits she still hasn't entirely "figured out" her new career but that she now finally has had time to look at the situation properly after hanging up her skates.

"I definitely want to stay on the sports administration side of things because it is something that I love," she said.

"I'm learning so much and I'm really enjoying making a contribution.

"My options are open now that I have finished playing.

"I want to stay involved with ice hockey and I think I definitely will.

"But my immediate focus is to do the best job possible on the IOC Commissions on which I sit.

"The Entourage Commission is very exciting because it is so athlete focused and it has them at the heart and the Pyeongchang Coordination Commission is the same.

"I'm just lucky to be involved." 

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames