From 'Hunger Games' to 'Call Me Maybe,' how athletes sell Olympic sports (+video)
Athletes at the London Games don't just have to be world class, they often have to be salesmen for sports that slip into obscurity after the Olympics are over.
Tim Morehouse recognizes that most of America doesn't care about his sport. He just refuses to accept it.Skip to next paragraph
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To say that Morehouse is a fencer is vast understatement. He is nothing less than a zealot of his sport – a man whose silver in the men's team saber in Beijing gives only the smallest indication of what he is to fencing in America. In the five-ring circus that is the Olympics, Morehouse is the P.T. Barnum of the fencing piste.
He has written a biography titled (of course) "American Fencer," which is really more about how totally awesome fencing is than about Morehouse himself. He wants to write another book on the history of American fencing, enthusing to the media with the hint of a suggestion: Did you know The New York Times had a fencing beat writer in the 1920s?
Before coming to London, he fenced Boston Mayor Tom Menino at a Olympic sendoff event, successfully winning the promise: "You win the gold medal, I’ll have a party for you in the city of Boston, at City Hall Plaza." Then he went to New York, where he ran the fencing tournament he singlehandedly conceived and created, and which received national television coverage and sold out 2,500 tickets at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York.
Well, there won't be a party on Boston's City Hall Plaza. Morehouse fell in the quarterfinals of the men's individual saber in London Sunday, though he'll get another shot at a medal in the team competition Friday.
Morehouse's story of salesmanship is a familiar one to most Olympic athletes, who are really more than athletes. They are pitchmen and missionaries, athletic Don Quixotes who tilt against the windmills of American indifference. They make YouTube videos they hope will go viral, they do nationwide tours, they drop by gym classes at local elementary schools – all in the hope that, one day, their sport might not once again slip into obscurity the moment the Olympic flame is extinguished.
Swimmers go viral on YouTube
Consider: In 2004, fresh off a six-gold-medal performance in Athens, Michael Phelps headlined Disney's Swim With the Stars, an eight-stop tour to help teach young kids. In non-Olympic years, USA Swimming holds a "Duel in the Pool" meet to try to keep Americans engaged. And this year, before the London Games, the members of the US swim team made a YouTube video of them lip-syncing "Call Me Maybe," saying, "We’re going to make it viral," according to USA Today. (See video at end of story.)
And this is swimming, America's glamor sport at Summer Olympics. If Michael Phelps can't make Americans pay more attention to swimming than to the National Football League waiver wire, then what hope do other sports have?
If archery is any indication, perhaps they could try to bribe Hollywood.