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A home away from home. That’s the best way to describe USA House, the hospitality and business center established by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) at each Olympic Games. The atmosphere differs from house to house, but a common thread runs through them all: comradery and comfort for the athletes, their families, and the sponsors who represent the United States on the world’s greatest competitive stage.

On August 2, in the Winter Garden at Tokyo American Club (TAC), representatives from USOC gathered to reveal plans for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. “It’s my great pleasure and honor,” said USOC Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun, “to announce that, in 2020, Tokyo American Club will be the home of USA House in Tokyo.”

USA House in Rio de Janeiro

TAC will carry on a tradition that began in Salt Lake City in 2002, the last time the Winter Olympic Games were held in the United States. The Utah city played host to the first USA House, which has since evolved into a core part of the Olympic experience for American athletes.

Speaking to The ACCJ Journal, USOC Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Baird said that USA House is a place for the celebration of Team USA and the Olympic Games, and explained how it has grown over the years.

“USA House has been a function of the US delegation’s presence at the Olympic Games for decades, but in its current evolution as a full-service house it dates back to Vancouver in 2010.”

From left: TAC Olympic Committee Chair Dean Rogers, USOC CMO Lisa Baird, TAC President Michael Alfant, USOC CEO Scott Blackmun, and Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda at the August 2 announcement.

In this form, it has become a place to congregate and celebrate. “Our delegation is away for weeks when we are at an Olympic Games, and having our own ‘home’ has become an important tradition,” said Baird, who has been with the USOC since the Vancouver Games.

Soon it will be Tokyo’s turn to provide that home, and TAC President Mike Alfant is up to the challenge.

“On behalf of Tokyo American Club leadership, members, and staff, we are thrilled to welcome Team USA and know it will be an ideal home during the Tokyo Games,” he said as sunshine flooded into the Winter Garden. “USA House is a place for celebration of Team USA, and that is a natural fit within a great community at Tokyo American Club. We are excited for the Games to begin.”

The announcement was the culmination of a process that Blackmun told The ACCJ Journal began four years ago.

As Baird pointed out, USA House is always evolving. Each city offers different possibilities and presents different needs, as do the facilities.

“It is highly dependent on the local environment and what our goals are for hosting,” she explained. “In London, we welcomed thousands of guests and held almost 200 private events—including an Opening Night Gala. In PyeongChang [South Korea], USA House will be small and intimate in comparison to other Games, reminiscent of a winter ski chalet.”

Each USA House is unique and shaped in part by the facility that is chosen. In Rio, the USOC was able to leave a lasting impact on the community by converting a 15,000-square-meter, seven-story school on Ipanema Beach into a temporary home for Team USA.

“We hosted USA House at a small children’s school where we did a lot of work—infrastructure, technology updates, etc.—and left significant upgrades for the children,” Baird explained.

The USOC also brought benefit to the local job market, employing 700 Brazilians to refurbish the school.

TAC, with its existing facilities still gleaming from the rebuild that was completed in 2011, brings something different.

“It’s a beautiful facility in the heart of Tokyo,” said Baird. “It presents a unique opportunity because most of the places that we do are raw spaces. We honor the history of these places, but we completely transform them. Because this is so perfect, it’s going to really push us to go over and beyond. We want to bring something special from America for our guests here to enjoy that they would never have a chance to enjoy.”

Just as USA House left a legacy of improved educational resources for children in Rio, the USOC tries to leave a legacy in each city that hosts the Games. It’s an important part of what makes USA House special, something that lingers like the glory of Olympic victory for generations to come.

As TAC Olympic Committee Chair Dean Rogers said at the press conference, the meaning of legacy is touching lives in a positive way; and this is something the club has been doing since 1928. Rogers is proud that a new chapter in that history will be written with the USOC.

“The honor of being the USA House . . . will create a legacy here at Tokyo American Club that will not just be for the members who are here today, but for future generations of our children, and our children’s children, who will be able to look back.”

Baird told The ACCJ Journal that, unlike Rio, where they made a big investment and left the school that served as USA House with significant upgrades that had an important long-term impact for the students, TAC is already a state of the art facility. “As far as legacy, we have some time to work with the club leadership and membership to create a plan; but it’s safe to say that we will ensure our time in Tokyo—USA House included—is reflected in a legacy of being gracious guests and proud supporters of the Olympic movement.”

Sponsors also play a key role in the success of Team USA and any Olympic and Paralympic Games. At the time of the announcement, two partners—Oakley, Inc. and The Dow Chemical Company—had already committed to permanent spaces at the Tokyo 2020 USA House. “They will use the facility for their own hosting needs, including private events and receptions,” explained Baird. “In the past, those have been extremely creative, such as a party Hershey’s hosted in Rio to celebrate National S’Mores Day—and that really helps make USA House special.”

Also part of USA House is the Team USA Shop, which sells goods from official licensees. Some of these items can only be found there, such as the Ralph Lauren sweaters worn by Team USA during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, which sold for $595 at the Team USA Shop and became a collector’s item fetching more than $3,000 on eBay.

Charis Tsevis created mosaic murals for USA House in Rio de Janeiro.

At the 2016 Rio Games, the USOC opened the shop to the public for the first time, but complex Brazilian regulations and the need to form a Brazilian company with a Brazilian president presented a huge challenge. Like Team USA, however, the USOC prevailed and the store was a success. It remains to be determined if the Team USA Shop at TAC will be open to the public but, for those who visit USA House, it will be yet another connection to home and a wonderful opportunity to build the Team USA brand in Japan.

With three years to go until the torch is lit at New National Stadium in Shinjuku, there are many details of the USA House–TAC collaboration to work out. But, as Rogers expressed on the morning of the announcement, one thing is for sure: “The fact that the club gets to expose itself to a bigger audience is a great honor and gift.”

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.
The honor of being the USA House . . . will create a legacy here at Tokyo American Club.