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Figure skating: women’s title promises golden future

Figure skating: women’s title promises golden future

SKATING GOLD: Mao Asada of Japan practices her routine during a figure skating training session at the Iceberg Skating Palace training arena during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Feb. 17. Photo: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

By Keith Weir

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – As well as the glory, the young woman who strikes gold in the Olympic figure skating is destined to make millions of dollars as sponsors rush to sign her up to advertise their products.

Success in one of the most popular events at the Games has been a guarantee of riches for generations and Sochi will be no exception. The leading American contender is named Gracie Gold which seems fitting enough.

“Figure skaters have that grace and charm and can leverage it not just by doing endorsement deals but by performing for audiences around the world,” said Michael Principe, CEO of athlete representation company TLA Worldwide.

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“Americans are waiting for that next big personality to use that smile to take our hearts and our pocket books,” he added.

He cited Gabby Douglas, the teenager who won double Olympics gymnastics gold in London 2012, as a commercial model that a figure skater could easily emulate.

Kellogg’s put a picture of a smiling Douglas on the front of a commemorative Corn Flakes packet. She also won a contract to promote Nintendo’s Super Mario games and took a break from competing to go on a 40-city tour of the United States.

GLOBAL APPEAL

The figure skating champion doesn’t have to be an American to cash in.

South Korean Kim Yuna has become a multi-millionaire on the back of her 2010 gold in Vancouver.

Forbes estimated Kim earned $14 million in the year to June 2013, making her the sixth highest-paid female athlete in a list topped by Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova.

Everything she wears and uses makes immediate headlines. After she was picked up on camera using a Dior lipstick while she was waiting for her turn to skate, the product sold out.

Dior sponsored all makeup products for her ice show last June and South Korean technology company Samsung Electronics is another of a long list of backers.

If Yuna becomes the first skater to retain her title since East German Katarina Witt in 1988, market analysts expect the “gold medal effect” to amount to six trillion Korean won ($5.6 billion), more than Vancouver’s 5 trillion won.

HENIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD

Back in the 1980s, Time magazine described Witt as “the most beautiful face of socialism”. As communism crumbled, she turned her celebrity into commercial success, touring the world with ice shows, appearing in films and once posing naked for Playboy.

Norwegian Sonja Henie, triple champion between 1928 and 1936, competed as an amateur but was the trail blazer for today’s financially savvy skaters.

Henie became a Hollywood movie star after retiring from the sport and had a box office appeal to rival contemporary screen idols Shirley Temple and Clark Gable.

When Peggy Fleming won the gold medal in 1968, the American immediately cashed in on her success, signing a $500,000 contract to skate in a touring show and appear in a range of commercials before becoming a television commentator.

Eight years later, Dorothy Hamill became the first female athlete to sign a $1 million-a-year contract after she won the 1976 title.

Before the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, Sarah Hughes was like any other American teenager. But when she won the gold medal, aged 16, her face was on breakfast cereal boxes all over the country and she walked away with a bunch of rich endorsements and the Sochi champion can expect even more riches.

(Additional reporting by Narae Kim in Seoul; editing by Julian Linden)

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