COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The Olympics in America wouldn't be what they are today without the contributions of former Sen. Ted Stevens.
The Alaska Republican, who died in a plane crash Monday night, is best remembered in the sports world as the author of the bill that reconstructed the American Olympic movement in 1978.
"No one in American political life did more for amateur sports than Ted," said Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics.
The Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act brought centralized control of sports to the U.S. Olympic Committee and generated the idea of creating national governing bodies to run the individual sports.
Today, the Stevens bill remains the template that leaders in the Olympic movement must adhere to -- a law that attempts to protect athletes and gives the USOC authority to run the Olympic business in the United States.
Stevens was also a proponent of Title IX -- the landmark legislation designed to give women equal opportunities in sports.
Before the Stevens act, the USOC had to battle with the NCAA, AAU and other organizations over the rights to bring athletes onto American teams. By creating national governing bodies for the individual sports, the athletes had independent organizations that would funnel them into the Olympic movement.
Though imperfect, the system that Stevens helped shape took some of the cronyism and politics out of the Olympics, said Mike Moran, former communications chief at the USOC. The federation's new national headquarters was opened in Colorado Springs shortly after passage of the bill.
"Ted Stevens showed invaluable leadership for the Olympic movement at a time when it needed to be shaped," said USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny. "His legacy is secure in that regard."
Stevens died about a month after the passing of George Steinbrenner, the Yankees owner who also played a pivotal role in shaping and reforming the USOC. As was the case after Steinbrenner's death, the USOC lauded Stevens as an integral part of its success.
"He helped to restructure the U.S. Olympic movement in a way that has contributed to the success of our athletes at the Olympic Games," said Scott Blackmun, CEO of the USOC. "He was a champion of sport in America and our U.S. Olympic teams."