“When this is gone, I die. This version of Adam Van Koeverden is dead, I have to move on,” Canada’s most celebrated paddler told the CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault on his emotional decision to retire from the sport. “No matter what I do next – go to law school, get into banking, open a restaurant or make coffee – I probably won’t be one of the best in the world at it.”
It takes a certain kind.
Going for The Gold requires sacrifice, drive, discipline, and a single-mindedness bordering on solipsism. You eat, sleep and breathe achievement: the pursuit of anything beyond your personal best becomes an extravagance not worth its price.
For Ryan Lochte, an ill-timed pee and an ignoble lie was all it took to erase four years of sweat. While no one can take away the 12 Olympic medals Ryan has earned over the course of his storied career, the sponsorship gold, from the likes of Speedo and Ralph Lauren, is evaporating before his eyes.
But the writing was on the wall. Promoting his foray into Reality TV during an interview with Fox back in 2013, Ryan admitted: ”I’m a lot different than any other Olympian. I like to out, have fun, go dancing with my friends.”
For scandal-wary brands, the endorsement game isn’t just about assessing an athlete’s potential for success on the field: it’s about assessing their potential for disaster off it. When Adam Van Koeverden calls his kayak his girlfriend, you suspect it may not even be a metaphor. His wholesomeness and self-containment makes him a sponsor’s dream date.
On the flip side, the personal mantra Ryan shared with FOX News – if you’re a man at night, you have to be a man in the morning – should have been enough to send brand managers sprinting for the hills long before the gas station debacle ever came to pass.
To the elite athlete who dreams of sponsorship gold: do yourself a favour and treat being an Olympian as the 24/7 exercise in brand management that it is. Visualize your body, not as a temple or a machine, but as an office. One you can never leave.
Katherine Gougeon explores social and cultural details that have an outsized ripple effect. Follow her on Twitter @kgougeon