washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Leagues and Sports > Olympics > 2004 > Sport-by-Sport > Swimming

A Change of Focus

'If You Are a Marketer, Michael Phelps Is a Dream Come True.'

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 25, 2004; Page D07

ATHENS, Aug. 24 -- The red and white stretch Mini with tinted windows pulled up to the beach club here with blond-haired Dutch swimming star Inge de Bruijn poking through the sun roof in a white tank top.

American swimming champion Amanda Beard, who was standing nearby in a white bikini and flip flops, remarked of the car, "I got that the other night."


Frolicking in the surf with Olympic phenomenon Michael Phelps are fellow U.S. medalists Jenny Thompson, left, Amanda Beard, Natalie Coughlin, right. (Adrees Latif -- Reuters)

_____ Day 12 _____
 Olympics
The Iraqi soccer team's run ends in the semifinals.
The day's events in track and field bring ups and downs.
Misty May and Kerri Walsh win gold in beach volleyball.
Andre Ward upsets two-time world champion Yevgeny Makarenko in the ring.
Bryan Clay takes silver in the decathlon, while Tom Pappas withdraws due to injury.
Shawn Crawford leads two U.S. teammates into the semifinals of the men's 200 meters.
American wrestler Rulon Gardner wins his first two matches.
The U.S. women's water polo team is upset by Italy.
American Troy Dumais fails to medal in the men's 3-meter springboard final.
America's Cup star Paul Cayard is still in medal contention.
In the cycling men's points race, Russia's Ignatyev is the winner.
In the cycling sprints, Australia's Bayley and Canada's Muenzer win gold.
U.S. basketball player Katie Smith has torn cartilage in her right knee.

_____ More From The Post _____
Michael Wilbon: Andre Ward is America's best chance for a boxing medal.
Sally Jenkins: Whether the Iraqi soccer team gets a medal, or not, they've already won almost everything, with almost nothing.
Scoring controversy has marred the gymnastics competition.
If you are a marketer, Michael Phelps is a dream come true.

_____ On Our Site _____
Athens Snippets: Irini station is a thriving tribute to capitalism.
Graphic: Some youngsters are stepping up on the U.S. track and field team.

___ Tuesday's Medals Results ___
Athletics
Men's 1,500
Men's 3000 steeplechase
Men's decathlon
Women's 400
Women's 100 hurdles
Women's pole vault
Beach Volleyball
Women
Cycling (Track)
Men's points race
Men's sprint
Women's sprint
Diving
Men's 3-meter springboard
Equestrian
Team jumping
Weightlifting
Men's 105Kg

_____ Multimedia _____
Audio: Sprinter Jeremy Wariner excited by win.
Audio: Hamm comments on medal controversy.

_____ Photos _____
Day 12
Photo galleries page

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While admirers sang to de Bruijn in Dutch, someone asked Beard if that was the car with the Jacuzzi inside. It sure was.

Into this merry Olympic fete on the Saronic Gulf on Tuesday morning, Maryland's multiple gold medalist Michael Phelps, 19, strolled a few minutes later.

The gathering, in sunny, breezy weather, was billed as a chance for Speedo-sponsored athletes to relax and frolic, three days after the end of the Olympic swimming competition.

They did, but some of the fun was choreographed for the phalanx of invited journalists. And the relaxation, watched over by grim-looking security guards in shirts, ties and earpieces, seemed as much business as pleasure.

Such is life for modern, corporate Olympians. The work of competition quickly gives way to that of commerce.

And it is especially so for Phelps, who won six gold medals and two bronze last week.

His public whirl began Sunday afternoon when he appeared at an elegant Athens tennis club, beside the ruins of a temple to Zeus, with Michael Lynch, an executive at Visa, the credit card company that is one of his sponsors.

After Phelps, of Baltimore County, was introduced as "the phenomenon," he and Lynch sat side by side on directors chairs in matching pale blue Visa polo shirts and fielded questions from the media.

Phelps, wearing one of his gold medals, said his Olympics had been "a blast."

"This is the first week I've ever had off from swimming for a solid week," he said. "I'm going to pretty much just enjoy it, try to catch some venues, some other sports, and just have fun."

He said he planned to stay through the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday. A spokeswoman for USA Swimming, the sport's governing body, said there was a good chance Phelps would be nominated to be the U.S. flag bearer.

Sunday night Phelps attended a party, closed to the media, at En Plo, a waterfront Athens night club, with other top swimmers, including Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett of Australia, and Americans Lenny Krayzelburg and Jenny Thompson.

That party, which went until 3 a.m., also was hosted by Speedo.

Speedo has a multiyear, multimillion dollar endorsement contract with Phelps. And it was Speedo that offered him the $1 million bonus if he won seven gold medals and broke the 1972 record set by Mark Spitz.

Although there are many lavish athlete parties here, sponsored by the likes of Nike, Adidas, and Red Bull, Phelps won't be attending them.

"He's going to be at our parties," said Craig Brommers, Speedo's marketing vice president

Evan Morgenstein, an agent who represents other Olympic swimmers here, said Phelps may not have much time for fun.

"How much free time does he have?" Morgenstein said. "Probably none. His marketability, like most Olympic athletes, has a window."

And Phelps's agent, Peter Carlisle, has said in most cases the window starts to close shortly after the Olympics. So there is no time to lose.

On Monday, Phelps was whisked to Athens's Alimos Marina, where he boarded a 95-foot Speedo yacht for a two-hour cruise around the Gulf with "Today" show host Matt Lauer.

Phelps's mother, Debbie, and sister, Hilary, went, too, along with Carlisle, and Speedo's Brommers. Phelps and Lauer engaged in a swimming race, which Phelps won, and Phelps was allowed to steer the yacht.

"We had a great time," Phelps said.

The swimmer later appeared live on "Today" Monday, along with Spitz, who said, "The world is at his doorstep."

The show also featured a feed from Phelps's favorite restaurant in Baltimore, where the owner showed off Phelps's favorite breakfast, and patrons chanted "USA! USA!" in the background.

The yacht segment aired Tuesday.

Even though Phelps came up one gold medal short of Spitz's record, Speedo has been overjoyed with the young man they have had under contract since age 16.

"The Speedo brand has been around for 76 years," Brommers said. "He's the single most important endorser of our brand of all time. . . . If you are a marketer, Michael Phelps is a dream come true."

"He's the highest-paid swimmer of all," he said, noting that the $1 million bonus stands through 2008. "The offer's on the table and we'll see what happens on the road to Beijing."

On Tuesday, Phelps, clad now in a Speedo shirt and shorts, and accompanied by one of Carlisle's aides, lounged under green and white umbrellas on the pebbled party beach with other elite swimmers fresh from the Games.

Sounding a little hoarse, he told reporters he had not yet been able to attend any other Olympic events, but he still hoped to.

He said fame was "cool."

"I can't tell you how excited I am to get all this attention," he said. "It's awesome."

Olympiads are legendary for partying among athletes, especially those whose events are over. "Every time you go out it's a party, if you won a medal," Morgenstein said.

But to his sponsors, Phelps is as precious as a Grecian urn: worth millions, and to be handled with the utmost care. Carlisle, his agent, controls many of his outside activities. "I'm involved in a lot of what he does, obviously," he said, but Phelps also is "a grownup."

Phelps's mother said she is not worried about him.

"I know how Michael makes decisions," she said. "I know what kind of individual he is. He's going to be fine."

She did say it has been hard to have private time with her son.

"Every time we've been close to talking to him, there have been people around," she said. "Even when we ask for private time, they say, 'Fine,' but then they stand behind us."

She said she understands. "Michael belongs to the fans right now," she said.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company