When Dutch bank DSB Bank pulled out from corporate sponsorship of the US speedskating team, the athletes' hopes for participating in the 2010 Olympics seemed dashed. But then a television comic came to the rescue. No joke.
Perhaps the least likely sponsor, the comedian Stephen Colbert, the host of the satirical political TV show, The Colbert Report, on the Comedy Central channel, managed to raise funds to help the athletes. The bankrupt bank couldn't meet its four-year arrangement, worth $300,000 a year and jeopardized the team's Olympic budget.
The surprise replacement from The Colbert Report was made possible by fans of the show - referred to as the Colbert Nation - who responded when Colbert solicited viewers to pledge support for the US speedskating team during a report on the program. "We've got to step up and make sure it is America's 38-inch thighs on that medal platform!" Colbert shouted to his audience.
As a sendup of real bombastic conservative talk show hosts, there was concern that he might mock the sport. Instead, the stunt raised the profile of speedskating after Sports Illustrated magazine put the comedian on its December cover, dressed in a skintight Team USA racing suit.
After the 2010 Vancouver Games, the US speedskating team will seek a long-term sponsor.