Olympic Gold: is it worth its weight?

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Australia's Dave Smith celebrates after the Australian team won the gold medal in the kayak four (K4) 1000m men's final A. AFP PHOTO / FRANCISCO LEONG

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At the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the medals awarded to first place were silver and the runner up received a copper medal.

In 1900, many of the winners only received trophies and cups. It was not until 1904 that gold medals were presented to an Olympic champion.

Fastforward a century and the London 2012 Olympic Games medals featured the Greek Goddess of Victory, otherwise known as ‘Nike’.

It seems logical then, that as the Olympic Games is swallowed up by commercialism, we examine what an Olympic Gold medal is really worth to an Australian athlete.

In terms of commercial value, the only real winners from the 2012 Australian Olympic Team were Sally Pearson and Anna Meares. Meares will likely retire from cycling, so in this case let’s focus on our ‘hurdling queen’ Sally Pearson.

Sports Agent James Erskine, whose clients include Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke, suggests: “If Sally plays her cards right she will be a household name right into her ’70s.”

This statement is supported by marketing research compiled by Sweeney Sports and Entertainment, which suggests that the Australian public rank her third on the all-time list of Australia’s most admired Olympic athletes.

Only the performances of Ian Thorpe (25%) and Cathy Freeman (19%) surpass what Sally Pearson achieved in London. It’s fair to say that those 10 hurdles and that 12.35 seconds have changed her life forever.

Chris Styring, General Manager of Sweeney Sports and Entertainment, explains: “Sally Pearson connects with Australian’s like few athletes…she is understated, absolutely genuine in everything she does, and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She comes across as very real and humble”.

The general public relate to these values, because in essence they define who we are as Australians. One of Australia’s top talent managers, Sean Anderson, sums up the Sally Pearson brand: “Sally is a sponsor’s dream – down to earth, focused, a great communicator, and now a gold medallist.”

The truth is that Sally’s rollercoaster ride of drama and success at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and her Olympic silver medal in Beijing in 2008, meant that she quite rightly had a portfolio of loyal sponsors who were aligned with her before she even lined up on the start line in London – Acer, Mitsubishi, AMP, Coles, Qantas, Omega and Adidas.

It is these sponsors who will pay for the benefits of an association with Australia’s Olympic 100m Hurdles Champion. Prize money in track and field is inconsistent, but the right commercial deals can be worth millions.

As Olympic, World and Commonwealth champion, plus potentially World Record Holder, she can now command huge premiums.

Surprisingly, Pearson’s manager Robert Joske said he would be taking a more cautious approach. The challenge for Joske is to negotiate long term deals up to and including the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, 2016.

“We’re not looking for any more sponsors. We can’t service any more than what there is now,” said Joske, who is conscious of not burning out, or over exposing, one of Australia’s most marketable athletes.

When Sally Pearson returned to Australia and stepped confidently off the Qantas plane, she was wearing a t-shirt with “I’M GOLD” emblazoned across the front. She was 100% right. Her success in London is estimated to earn her $2 million per year for the next four years.

Despite the fact that a London 2012 Olympic Games gold medal is only made up of 1% Gold and is worth 410 GBP in terms of raw materials, I think it’s fair to say that an Olympic gold medal is still worth its weight in gold.

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