Some Olympic hopefuls are lucky. They have six-figure endorsement contracts and can concentrate solely on training for peak performance. More commonly, dreams of Olympic glory mean scrounging for dollars. One runner from Eugene even auctioned his left shoulder on eBay recently.
Eugene-based runner Nick Symmonds began his outdoor campaign for a spot on the 2012 Olympic team this past weekend.
Symmonds, who hails from Boise, raced the mile at the Kansas Relays and finished middle of the pack. He also showed off a noteworthy tattoo for the first time in competition. It's a temporary tattoo displaying a twitter handle.
"I actually put my shoulder up for auction on eBay this last January with more of the intention of raising awareness to the struggles athletes go through as they try to make ends meet and prepare for their Olympic dream," Symmonds says.
A marketing agency from Wisconsin bought the ad space on his shoulder.
"Ultimately, Hanson Dodge Creative won with a bid of $11,100 which was significantly more than what I ever thought a couple square inches of my left shoulder would be worth," Symmonds says.
This auction is one of the more creative gambits by Olympic hopefuls from the Northwest. In some respects, Symmonds is better off than most. He has enough sponsorship and income so he can train for the London Games full time. Other athletes in our region juggle hours of daily workouts and out-of-state competitions with part time jobs that don't quite make ends meet.
In Seattle, distance runner Rose Wetzel and hurdler Felesha Ankton recently scheduled a joint fundraiser at a cocktail lounge.
Wetzel says at first, "It felt kind of weird to have a fundraiser for myself and for my goals. But more and more people said that it was a great idea and that they wanted to support me and support us."
Wetzel also resolved her qualms by donating a third of the proceeds from the drink specials, ring toss and raffle to the Special Olympics.
Former University of Washington standout Norris Frederick hopes to punch his ticket to London in the long jump. His fundraising hook was a celebrity date auction. You could bid to go out with the Olympic hopeful himself, or other famous Husky athletes, or members of the Seattle Mist lingerie football team.
There's no lingerie on javelin thrower Cyrus Hostetler's personal website. But there are lots of bulging biceps. The site promotes his Olympic quest and solicits donations.
"Some sponsored athletes, they've got it made. They've got all the equipment they need," Hostetler says. "But when you’re still trying to make your mark in history and make those big throws, you've got to make you own ends meet. I've been trying to do that through my own website."
For a while, the University of Oregon grad posted his monthly budget in all its frugal detail.
Olympian Nick Symmonds sports the results of an eBay auction on his left shoulder. Photo courtesy Hanson Dodge Creative
"I struggle to make rent, to make food payments, things like that," Hostetler explains. "I just want it to be an open book."
Hostetler even offers public-radio style pledge thank you gifts. No tote bags or coffee mugs here; instead, T-shirts and autographed photos.
U.S. Olympic athletes receive no government support, unlike some other sports powers around the world. U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Jones says our athletes sometimes have to be more creative than others to support themselves, but he wouldn't say we're at a disadvantage.
"It's hard to argue that our system is broken when our teams have been as successful as they have been over the last several quadrenniums."
Jones says he hasn't heard of any American athletes going as far as a certain luge racer from Tonga, in the South Pacific. This guy, Fuahea Semi, legally changed his name to that of his sponsor, Bruno Banani. That's a German underwear and swimsuit brand.
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