Ready, steady, go – the race to turn gold into millions

Amol Rajan
Saturday 22 October 2011 21:35

Britain's Olympic heroes in Beijing are being circled by increasing numbers of sports agents, multi-nationals and image consultants desperate to cash in on their new-found fame.

Behind the scenes in China's capital, newly crowned champions, from the swimmer Rebecca Adlington to the cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Chris Hoy, are being approached by PR gurus and corporate messengers, all waving blank cheques in the hope of attaching their brands to British sporting success at London 2012.

The rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), together with Olympic etiquette, censor the announcement of new deals during a tournament. But during the next few weeks the British Olympic Association (BOA) is expected to announce sponsorship contracts worth millions of pounds in several different sports. A BOA spokesman refused to be drawn on specific deals but, privately, officials admit that members of Team GB have been inundated with offers and inquiries from agents and sponsors.

Adlington, still only 19, has been the subject of more attention than most. She is the first British woman to win an Olympic swimming race in 50 years and the most successful British swimmer in a century, having smashed the world record for the 800m freestyle by two seconds which, having been set in the year of her birth, 1989, was the longest standing in the sport.

A spokesman for the governing body British Swimming, which represents Adlington, said: "Becky is still in Beijing after the most incredible week of her life. We've got to remember that she's only 19. Of course there will be a lot of sponsors queuing up but her priority is family time and rest."

Adlington, from Mansfield, who will shortly set off on a cruise around the Mediterranean, received phone calls from the producers of the BBC quiz show A Question of Sport even before she'd won her first gold. She is almost certain to get kit deals from the likes of Speedo or Adidas and could be endorsed by a bank or pharmaceutical company, for instance, to the tune of £150,000 a year. The new golden girl of British sport still receives an annual £1,000 grant from Mansfield district council for travel and accommodation costs. Over the weekend, she said she "got the feeling" her Lottery funding would go up from its current level of £12,000, but added: "I wouldn't accept anything that comes in the way of my swimming".

Ahead of Beijing, UK Athletics, the governing body, signed a deal with Alfa Romeo to provide all medal winners in track and field events with a sports car of their choice from the manufacturer. And Norwich Union agreed to pay £5,000, £4,000 and £3,000 respectively to winners of gold, silver and bronze medallists in athletics.

British stars of an earlier generation have made a fortune out of their sporting success. From 2001, Paula Radcliffe was paid £600,000 over four years by Nike, while Dame Kelly Holmes, an Olympic champion at 800m and 1500m, was awarded £100,000 from Reebok.

Mark Borkowski, author of The Fame Formula, said: "She [Adlington] compares well with Olympians like [rowers] Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, in that swimming is not an exclusively middle class sport. Adlington has so much genuine heroism about her ... and that ordinariness will serve her well."

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