Michael Phelps wave takes swimming to new heights
Check out the newsstand. Yep, its another magazine with Michael Phelps on the cover. Flip on the television. Theres a good chance youll see the worlds greatest swimmer pitching everything from credit cards to energy bars. Log on to the computer. If you want a behind-the-scenes look at what Phelps was like as a sports-crazy youngster growing up in Baltimore, its not too hard to find footage of his gawky years. Phelps already has taken the record book into uncharted waters. His impact outside the pool might be even greater. Everything changed because of him, fellow swimmer and three-time Olympian Aaron Peirsol said. Because of Tiger, golf got more recognition. Because of Mike, were on TV a lot more. … Because of him, people are getting to know our sport a lot better. Swimming didnt start with Phelps, of course. The U.S. produced stars such as Matt Biondi, Janet Evans and Rowdy Gaines, all of whom captured the countrys imagination. But swimming was usually stuck a notch below track and gymnastics on Americas once-every-four-years radar, and most its athletes has little staying power once the flame was doused.Although Mark Spitz, who won a record seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Games, managed to carve out a prosperous living from his swimming accomplishments, his was a boat largely sailing solo, zipping along atop the waves while everyone else watched from shore.Now, along comes Phelps, a Spitz for this generation.In Beijing, the gangly 23-year-old who loves hip-hop and tricked-out cars will take another shot at Spitzs iconic record, having come up just short four years ago when he won six gold medals and two bronzes in Athens.In all likelihood, Phelps already has surpassed Spitz when it comes to making money off the butterfly, taking advantage of a rapidly changing media world that those around him led by his team of agents at Octagon are eager to explore, and exploit.He has a long list of high-profile sponsors, including Speedo, Visa, PowerBar, Omega, AT&T, Rosetta Stone, Hilton and Kelloggs. (By the way, he doesnt like pickles, so theres no need for Vlasic to make a pitch.) He took part in a much-ballyhooed photo shoot for Vogue that also included LeBron James. Hes been out front on several well-known magazines, currently appearing with good friend and rival Ryan Lochte on the cover of Mens Journal. Hell even make a pitch to the good ol boys when his face is painted on Jeff Burtons car for NASCARs Aug. 3 race at Pocono, just days before the opening ceremonies in Beijing.When you look at this sport 10 years ago, Phelps said, you never saw swimmers on a magazine cover. Its something I really always wanted.But Peter Carlisle, who leads the Olympic and action sports division at Octagon, is looking beyond mainstream media to put Phelps before a whole new bloc of potential fans, the Gen Yers and Gen Zers who hook up at MySpace, surf for videos on YouTube, go to blogs for their news fix.For this demographic, television and magazines and newspapers are old-fashioned remnants of their parents generation. Octagon went a different route, launching http://www.swimroom.com and touting it as the first social networking site for swimmers. There are blogs and instructional videos and, of course, merchandise to buy.Carlisle could see the future when he signed Phelps as a 16-year-old. He gave the swimmers mother, Debbie, a video camera and told her to capture all the behind-the-scenes coverage she could. Now, professional crews tail Phelps and Octagons other clients, capturing hundreds of hours of video that is catalogued, stored and sure to show up on a DVD or some other moneymaking venture down the road.Now, you can buy a high-def camera for next to nothing, then watch high-def videos online, Carlisle said. All the kids are doing that. It becomes a great connector to the general public. Theres a huge market out there, and if you want to promote swimming, its that much easier.
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