Thu, Apr 22, 2010 - Page 19 News List

WINTER OLYMPIC: Canadian medalists wait for jackpot

REUTERS , TORONTO

Gold medalist Ashleigh McIvor of Canada displays her medal for the women’s ski cross freestyle skiing competition at the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Feb. 23.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Canadian athletes who won a record haul of Winter Olympic gold medals face a race against time to secure life-changing endorsement deals before they are forgotten.

Less than two months after the Vancouver Games ended with the host nation on top of the medals table with 14 golds, Canada’s golden generation are still waiting to cash in on their success.

One expert suggests Canada’s much hyped “Own the Podium” campaign, designed to ensure its athletes had a good showing, may have dented their chances at landing lucrative deals.

“We had so many gold medal winners that it does somewhat diminish the opportunities,” Ken Wong, marketing professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, said in a telephone interview. “But having said that, it’s safe to say that some of them probably never had huge opportunities to start with, even if they had been the only gold medal winner.”

Wong said personality, appearance and whether or not there is an intriguing story behind the medal winner all factor into whether athletes land major endorsement deals.

Ashleigh McIvor, who won gold in the Olympic debut of women’s ski cross, has been busy with speaking engagements and corporate events and said a deal with a shampoo company or promoting sporting attire may not be far off.

“There are some things in the works,” McIvor said by telephone. “The whole idea for me in the short term is to make it possible to continue racing through the next Olympics and it would help to not have to have a summer job.”

Many expected Alexandre Bilodeau, the first Canadian to win gold on home soil when he won the freestyle skiing moguls, to be the likely candidate for a major contract.

Bilodeau has since thrown out the ceremonial first pitch at the Toronto Blue Jays home opener — days after US President Barack Obama did the same thing for Washington’s Major League Baseball club — and had a park named in his honor.

But Bilodeau and many other gold-medal winners who shot to instant celebrity status in February from relative obscurity must battle for the spotlight with higher-profile professional athletes who tend to dominate North America’s sporting world.

Wong suggested Bilodeau has about a year to capitalize on his Vancouver accomplishment and that while he could have the tools to be a great spokesman, he may lack what it takes to find much in the way of commercial success.

One Canadian athlete who managed to turn Olympic stardom into a lasting career is retired speed skater Catriona Le May Doan, a two-times Olympic gold medalist with a 500-watt smile who now works in broadcasting and as a motivational speaker.

Still, not all athletes are motivated to turn gold medals into lucrative contracts, a notion evident with Maelle Ricker, the first Canadian woman to win gold in Canada.

While Ricker has appeared on cereal boxes and been busy with speaking engagements, she is not focused on tying her image to a big endorsement deal.

“The importance of the story is the athletes sharing their sport and that side of it and not necessarily the financial side of it,” Ricker said by telephone.

Kaillie Humphries, who captured gold in women’s Olympic bobsleigh along with brakewoman Heather Moyse, said apart from being asked to appear at several sporting events she has not been offered any lucrative endorsement deals.

“I think it is something a lot of people expect or think just happens when you get a gold medal ... and I did too, I would be the first to admit that,” Humphries said by telephone. “I am still waiting and still hoping, but as it is right at this point it hasn’t.”

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