USOPC unveils athlete marketing program for Olympic, Paralympic hopefuls

Getty Images

DENVER — U.S. Olympic hopefuls will be able to cut their own deals with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s marketing partners under a first-of-its-kind plan that has potential to shift the top-heavy sponsorship model that rules the Olympic world.

The USOPC unveiled a program Tuesday called AMP —- Athlete Marketing Program — which will give potential Olympians three ways of connecting with the federation’s sponsors. One includes a $1,250 payment in 2021 simply for signing up with an arm of the program that will produce content featuring athletes in groups of three or more.

Another part of the program allows some athletes to earn royalties on licensed merchandise with their name on it. The third part allows athletes to sign separate endorsement deals with USOPC sponsors. The entire program is voluntary. Athletes will sign up by building a profile on an online platform that sponsors and licensees can access.

“It gives you a chance to get marketing exposure you might not have had access to,” two-time Olympic champion triple jumper Christian Taylor said.

The program could augment deals that many champions such as Taylor already have, while providing a starting point for up-and-comers who haven’t hired agents or otherwise become well-known.

“For the majority of athletes who never get any opportunity, it’s a fair and a great way to get some exposure,” agent Sheryl Shade said. “For the big-name athletes, this is not where they’re going to get their sponsorships.”

The program, which begins in March, is the USOPC’s biggest attempt to date to provide a remedy for the IOC’s much-maligned Rule 40. The Olympics have long used the rule to restrict marketing opportunities for athletes, essentially forbidding them from marketing themselves during the games with companies whose brands compete with Olympic sponsors.

That restriction, combined with the limited windows of opportunity for most Olympic athletes, has fostered tension between athletes, who want to be able to cash in when their profiles are at their highest, and the IOC, which has long insisted it must enforce the restrictions to ensure value for its biggest sponsors who pay upward of $100 million for an Olympic cycle.

“We started to look at Rule 40, and how do we create opportunities,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said.

The full pilot program is available for athletes who finished in the top eight (or top six, in team events) in the most recent year’s world championship or equivalent event. Individual marketing opportunities will be available for those who competed in the most recent world championships or have qualified for the upcoming Tokyo or Beijing Olympics.

Hirshland acknowledged the program is a work in progress and doesn’t expect all athletes to be overjoyed by a $1,250 payment alone, but urges them to see the program as a chance to build something bigger than what the dollars will do on their own.

“It’s a chance to tap into how much demand there is out there,” she said. “And it’s a chance for athletes who are willing and eager to engage and build their own profiles and brands in their own way. There’s value in that an athlete’s own marketing arrangement can be different from what our organization delivers” in its own marketing deals.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin

Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Lara Gut-Behrami wins Killington giant slalom, and the overall title race may be on


Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami rallied from third place after the first run for her 35th career World Cup victory, taking a giant slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Saturday.

Gut-Behrami, 31, earned her fifth World Cup giant slalom win and first in six years. She prevailed by .07 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino combining times from two windy runs. Sweden’s Sara Hector, the Olympic champion and first-run leader, ended up third.

“Last two years I’ve been getting better in GS again,” said Gut-Behrami, who won the GS at the last world championships in 2021. “Last year I was struggling with my health. I was all the time sick.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Gut-Behrami’s best events are downhill and super-G, so a strong start to the season in GS could put her on a path to winning the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. She previously lifted that crystal globe in 2016.

Reigning World Cup overall champ Mikaela Shiffrin, who previously placed second, third, fourth and fifth in Killington giant slaloms, finished 13th after winning the season’s first two races, slaloms in Finland last week. It marked her lowest World Cup GS finish since December 2019.

“[Finland] was a spectacular weekend,” Shiffrin, who has not had much recent GS training, said after her 10th-place opening run Saturday. “Every race is a different story.”

Shiffrin won all five World Cup slaloms in Killington dating to 2016 and will go for her 50th career World Cup slalom victory across all venues on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock).

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!