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National swim coach Schubert takes leave

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

In another stunning blow to one of America's most powerful Olympic sports, Mark Schubert has taken at least a two-month leave of absence from his post as coach of the national swim team.

USA Swimming spokeswoman Jamie Olsen said Thursday she was unable to comment on the reasons for Schubert's leave because it's a personnel matter.

Schubert's departure comes as the governing body holds its national convention in Dallas, where it's expected to vote on measures to strengthen athlete protection in the wake of numerous allegations of sexual abuse involving coaches and underage swimmers.

There was no indication that the leave was related to the sexual abuse scandal, but it seemed clear the decision was not made by Schubert.

An e-mail sent to staff and board members, which was obtained by The Associated Press, said USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus and president Jim Wood will conduct "the ongoing evaluation of Mark's progress and participate in any decision-making that would take place prior to approving Mark's return, or determining if another course of action is necessary."

The e-mail said Wood would take over as interim team leader and would not be a candidate for the job on a permanent basis "should Mark not return to the position."

Another e-mail obtained by the AP, this one sent out by Wielgus to coaches and athletes, said Schubert's leave would begin immediately and last at least two months.

"Please respect this request that there be no communication (phone, text or email) with Mark during this leave period. If you have questions, concerns or messages that you wish to have delivered to Mark please channel these through Stacy Michael-Miller at USA Swimming," Wielgus wrote. Michael-Miller is the group's athlete services manager.

Attempts to reach Schubert were not immediately successful. A call to his cell phone said it was no longer a working number. An e-mail also was sent to him requesting comment.

Schubert has served on the U.S. coaching staff at every Olympics since 1984, working with such greats as Janet Evans, Dara Torres, Shirley Babashoff and Lenny Krayzelburg.

He took over in the newly created position of national team coach after the 2004 Athens Games, heading a program that boomed in popularity and benefited from a dramatic increase in revenue over the past decade, led by 14-time gold medal winner Michael Phelps.

But USA Swimming has endured a difficult year. Reports of numerous sexual abuse allegations against coaches, including former national team director Everett Uchiyama, led the organization to publish a list of officials who were banned for life and propose tougher rules to deal with the issue. Critics say the group is more concerned with protecting itself than addressing the problem.

In addition, Wielgus has led an effort to reorganize the board that governs the USA Swimming Foundation -- the group's main fundraising and philanthropic arm. All 13 members of the board, which included business leaders from firms such as Hewlett Packard and Deloitte & Touche LLP, submitted their resignations on June 30.