Nintendo earned free Super Mario advertising at Rio Olympic Closing Ceremony

Shinzo Abe
AP
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TOKYO (AP) — How much did Nintendo pay to land that dream marketing opportunity at the Rio Olympics closing ceremony, where Japan’s prime minister popped out dressed as the red-hatted plumber Super Mario?

Zero.

The Japanese video game maker behind “Pokemon” and “Zelda” got the coveted stage that corporate sponsors pay millions for after they were approached by those creating the festivities for “cooperation,” not the other way around, says Nintendo Co. spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa.

“I want to make that clear. We did not pay,” he said in a telephone interview. “And we are not going to become Olympic sponsors either.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe‘s emergence in a Super Mario costume was the highlight of the handover section for Tokyo, the host of the 2020 games.

The segment was so favorably received in Japan as surprisingly playful and tasteful, given the staidness usually associated with Japan Inc., that Abe earned a new nickname, “Abe-Mario.”

Tokyo city official Masahiro Hayashi said Japan’s top advertising company Dentsu Inc. was tapped to produce the handover segment, with a total budget for the Rio Olympics and the Paralympics of 1.2 billion yen ($12 million).

He refused to say how much Dentsu was paid, or give other details.

The city of Tokyo and the organizing committee are under intense pressure to trim costs, which have ballooned over the years, partly because of the weakening yen but also because planning fiascos, such as decisions to redo designs for both the main stadium and the Tokyo 2020 logo.

Organizing committee spokesman Motoki Okumura would not give details of the spending for the closing ceremony. Dentsu also declined to comment.

“Top Olympic sponsors pay millions of dollars to the IOC for permission to promote their brands to a massive global audience. Nintendo just did it for free. With Japan’s prime minister as their pitchman. Easily the marketing coup of the Rio Games,” said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing analyst and creative director at Baker Street Advertising of San Francisco.

Purists might feel the commercial branding was a bit overdone, and argue for other ways to promote Japanese culture, according to Dorfman, who has lived in Japan.

“But gaming and anime are certainly major aspects of modern Japan, and Mario is a universal icon. As someone who doesn’t take sports or the Olympics too seriously, I found the whole thing pretty funny and entertaining,” he said.

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Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, beach volleyball’s new sensation, win World Tour Finals

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes
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In just a few months since reuniting, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have become not just the best women’s beach volleyball team in the U.S., but also, arguably, the world.

Cheng and Hughes, former partners who got back together for a 2024 Olympic run, won the World Tour Finals on Sunday for the biggest title for a U.S. pair since April Ross and Alix Klineman took gold in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old Californians swept reigning world champions Duda and Ana Patricia of Brazil 21-18, 21-16 in Sunday’s final in Doha.

Cheng and Hughes have entered four tournaments since reuniting last fall and won all of them — once on the domestic AVP tour and now three international events.

They are rolling into the start of the 2024 Olympic qualifying window next week. It’s likely that the top two U.S. women’s pairs across international events over the course of the next 18 months qualify for the Paris Games.

Cheng and Hughes were previously NCAA champion teammates at USC, then the most promising, young U.S. pro team before splitting in 2018. Cheng made the Tokyo Olympics with Sarah Sponcil (lost in the round of 16), while Hughes’ Tokyo bid flamed out when partner Summer Ross suffered a back injury in 2019.

“It was a lot of the unknown and being young and kind of immature and listening to maybe outside forces and not really knowing how to deal with things as well,” Hughes said in October of their past breakup. “We’ve pretty much moved past that in our relationship. Moving forward with one another, we’re completely different players, and we’re a lot more mature. It feels like the right time. The past is past. We’re just moving forward.”

Cheng and Hughes have taken over from April Ross and Klineman as the top U.S. team. After winning Olympic gold, Klineman underwent shoulder surgery in January 2022 and last week announced she is pregnant and may return from childbirth for a “last-second” 2024 Olympic qualifying bid.

April Ross, a 40-year-old with an Olympic medal of every color, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

The U.S. has won at least one beach volleyball medal at every Olympics that the sport has been on the program (since 1996). Eighteen months out from the Paris Games, Cheng and Hughes are the best hope to keep the podium streak going.

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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