Does Olympic gold light a path to riches? Not for everyone.
The perception is that gold-winning Olympians find it easy to turn success into lucrative corporate sponsorships (Gabby Douglas is already on Corn Flakes boxes). But that's the exception to the rule.
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The big story here is not whether Jones deserves to have more sponsors than Harper. It's the more basic point: Like Harper, most Olympic athletes aren't rolling in money. The corporate deals that do come their way (Harper is backed by Nike) enable their athletic quest but not a cushy lifestyle.Skip to next paragraph
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This reality came into view early in the London Games, when many athletes used the social network Twitter to publicize their protest against an International Olympic Committee mandate known as rule 40. The rule says athletes can't advertise for their sponsors during the two weeks in London, unless the company is an official sponsor of the Olympics.
US track and field athlete Nick Symmonds, among others, tweeted that "many have gotten rich using Olympic athletes' free labor." He and others made the case that athletes would be valued more highly by corporations if their marketing visibility could extend to the Olympic Games themselves. That, in turn, might give more athletes the means to train and compete in their sports.
A few superstars, inevitably, become the most visible in ads targeted at the mainstream. For Ms. Douglas and Ms. Raisman, who have become instant household names, the first offers are likely the start of a flood of opportunities.
Mr. Phelps already enjoyed a ubiquitous presence even before these Games. Now, with his London performance making him the most decorated Olympian ever, he stands to rake in big money for years to come.
Sometimes, young athletes face tough choices about whether to accept corporate cash or not.
Missy Franklin, who may be the US women's answer to Phelps in the swimming pool, has launched her Olympic career by winning four golds and a bronze (plus setting two world records) as a teenager in London.
Sports marketing experts say Ms. Franklin might earn $2 million a year or more by saying "yes" to companies that want to hitch their products to her rising star.
Yet her avowed interest, so far at least, is to pursue college-level competition, where amateur-only rules ban such income.