Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France announced his plans to revive the Olympic Games in 1892, with a projected date for the staging of the first modern Games in the summer of 1896. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was created in 1894 to lead the organization of the Games. As countries around the world came to embrace the notion of an international sports festival, national organizations within the participating Olympic nations were created to advance the Olympic dream in their respective countries. The American Olympic Committee (later known as the United States Olympic Committee, or USOC) was founded in 1894. The future USOC was the American product of this initial revivalist effort, and the USOC has remained the official voice of the Olympic movement in the United States since that time.
The IOC is the ultimate authority in all matters pertaining to the conduct of both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. Although the IOC is the ultimate authority in all aspects of the governance of the Olympic Games, the structure of Olympic administration is best understood as a series of concentric rings of authority emanating outward from the IOC, with each successive outward circle representing the national Olympic committees, the Olympic Games organizing committees, and the international federations responsible for every individual Olympic sport. National committees such as the USOC have a measure of influence in the overall conduct of the affairs of the IOC.
In its role as the official representative of the Olympic movement in the United States, the USOC seeks to provide leadership and guidance to athletes, sports organizations, and the public at large regarding Olympic competition. The USOC is bound by the principles enunciated in the Olympic Charter, which stress the role of sport in the advancement of a peaceful world, emphasizing friendship, solidarity, and fair play in international sport. The USOC operates a number of training centers throughout the United States, chiefly those located at Colorado Springs, Colorado, Lake Placid, New York, and Chula Vista, California.
The most notable member of the USOC to occupy a position of influence in the IOC was Avery Brundage (1887–1975), elected to the IOC in 1936, and assuming its presidency from 1952 to 1972. Brundage is the only American ever to preside over the IOC. Brundage was famed for his many pronouncements regarding the role of professional athletes within the Olympic movement. He was a lifelong opponent of any form of Olympic professionalism. It was Brundage who determined that the 1972 Summer Games competitions in Munich would continue notwithstanding the terrorist capture in the Olympic Village and the subsequent murder of 11 Israeli athletes, a decision that remains controversial today.
An example of the nature of the leadership lent to American sport in general by the USOC is the 2005 publication of its comprehensive Coaching Code of Ethics. This document emphasizes the overarching coaching principles of competence, integrity, and professional responsibility. The Code develops the notion of "responsible coaching" in the context of respect for all participants, the elimination of harassment in all of its forms, and an understanding of the potential negative influence that poor coaching may have on impressionable athletes.
The USOC Coaching Code of Ethics makes particular reference to the obligation of coaches to seek drug-free sport. It is this issue that caused the USOC particular difficulty in terms of the international reputation of American sports in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the period between scandals created at the 1988 Summer Olympics when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for the steroid stanozolol and the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in the late 1990s, the USOC administered the Olympic drug-detection program. The USOC was widely criticized for its maintenance of an ineffective anti-doping program. Dr. Wade Exum of the USOC, who was responsible for the direction of the program, was terminated from his position in 2001. Exum revealed at that time that the USOC had recorded 18 positive drug tests among its tested athletes between 1984 and 2000, but it had not published the names of these athletes nor had the USOC imposed any sanctions regarding the participation of the offending athletes in international competition. The positive tests ranged from the presence of stimulants such as ephedrine, as well as banned steroids. These athletes were permitted by the USOC to participate in the Olympics; Carl Lewis, gold medalist in the 1988 Olympics 100 m, was among those that tested positive.
Since 2000, with the creation of the international anti-doping strategy that is headed by WADA, the national anti-doping agencies work with their respective Olympic committees to advance the goal of drug-free sport. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) performs that function in the United States, providing information to the USOC of relevance to selection of athletes.