The head of the U.S. Olympic Committee on Tuesday blamed scheduling conflicts for the Americans' woeful performance in the inaugural Youth Olympics, where their gold medal tally is less than Hungary and Azerbaijan.
The U.S. team, which traditionally is a dominant force at Olympic games, has won just four gold medals in Singapore and trails far behind China, which tops the medals table with 28 golds.
“There were some scheduling challenges,” USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun said. “We looked at this as a developmental opportunity for some of our athletes who don't otherwise get the opportunity to compete internationally.”
The talent gap was most glaring in the pool, as Chinese swimmers won 11 golds while the American team won one race. Some elite U.S. swimmers skipped the Youth Olympics to compete at the Pan-Pacific Championships in Irvine, Calif., on Aug 18-22.
Blackmun said the U.S. team embraced the sports, cultural and educational activities of the Youth Games, which feature 3,600 athletes aged 14 to 18 from 204 national Olympic committees competing in 26 sports from Aug 14-26.
“As things turned out, we might have struck that balance a little closer to the culture and education line,” Blackmun said. “It's not like we sent athletes that weren't qualified to be there.”
U.S. coaches defended the quality of their teams. Girls basketball coach Kathy Richey-Walton said her team, which won the bronze, had the best talent in the tournament. The boys basketball team stumbled to a fourth-place finish.
“I can't speak for the other sports, but I can tell you that we have two of the best performers in our sport at these games,” trampoline gymnastics coach Tara Guidry said.
Some athletes' parents said their children appreciated the opportunity to battle against top competition.
“They're learning how to compete internationally,” said Peter Janzen, whose daughter Kiera won the silver in the 400-meter freestyle. “This is a great experience here that will give great depth to the U.S. swimming program in the future.”
IOC president Jacques Rogge said he was not concerned about the quality of the American team.
“Sure, certain swimmers are not present,” he said. “But this will not diminish the quality of the swimming events or the youth games. When people don't participate, they are easily forgotten and they do not weigh on the success of the organization.”
AP Sports Writer Michael Casey contributed to this story from Singapore.