Beijing Wrap-Up: The 25 Most Marketable Olympians
CNBC Sports Business Reporter
With the Olympics now over, sports marketers are now going to start figuring out what athletes they should attach their brands to. So here's my top 25 Beijing Olympians in terms of their marketability, in order of how they'll be coveted by the corporate world. To be eligible for this list, you can't participate in an everyday professional sports league. Therefore, athletes such as Yao Ming, Kobe Bryant and Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh are not eligible.
- Michael Phelps, swimmer, USA. Eight gold medals and millions of dollars worth of advertising exposure for the companies whose clothes he wore – Speedo and Nike. Phelps will never have to work another day in his life as a result of his work here.
- Usain Bolt, sprinter, Jamaica. Not since Michael Johnson have we been this interested in a sprinter. And it helps Bolt that no high profile track star tested positive in these games. Any company whose main attribute is speed might want to sign Bolt – except McDonald's that is, after Bolt said Saturday his coach got mad at him for eaten Chicken McNuggets. Kudos to Puma, who already has a cross training shoe that looks like the shoe Bolt competed with. I saw the shoe retailing for about $120 in Beijing. And who doesn't love that last name?
- Nastia Liukin, gymnast, USA. She comes away from Beijing with five medals, tying her with Shannon Miller and Mary Lou Retton. The most important is that all-around medal, which is the gold that counts. Normally, I would say that being this high on the list would be contingent on Liukin competing in London, but she's good looking and she might be the best active corporate spokesman of all the Olympians.
- Guo Jingjing, diver, China. With two diving gold medals, this Chinese star becomes the most successful diver in Olympic history. All you have to know is this – she once had so many endorsements that she was banned from the team.
- Stephanie Rice, swimmer, Australia. Rice wins three medals in Beijing and is constantly in the news in the land down under. She has posed for FHM, has signed a lucrative deal with an Australia TV station, where she reportedly a new show called "Make Me A Supermodel."
- Shawn Johnson, gymnast, USA. Johnson, who received much more pre-Olympics press than Liukin, came away with a gold on the balance beam. The reason she's so high on this list is because we figure she's a shoe-in to be back in 2012.
- He Kexin, gymnast, China. As the most high profile of the Chinese gymnasts, she can cash in off these games, providing that no concrete evidence is ever found that she competed when she was younger than 16, the minimum age required to perform.
- Dara Torres, swimmer, USA. This 41-year-old American swimmer was so white hot before the games – in some cases, hotter than Phelps. She'll still get deals because of her story (I think people will want to read at least one of the books that she'll co-write), but she wasn't helped by her three silvers.
- Rebecca Adlington, swimmer, Great Britain. Call it peaking at the right time for Adlington. Her wins in the 400- and 800-meter free style makes her an icon for the 2012 games in her native land. She's already had a pub and a pool named after her since the Olympics.
- Liu Xiang, hurdler, China. China's biggest star flamed out in legendary fashion in Beijing. With more pressure on him than any athlete in the history of sports and more than 10 companies using him as an endorser, there's something in me that believes he'll never be back again. That's why he falls so low here.
- Walter Dix, sprinter, USA. With Tyson Gay not participating in a single final here at the Olympics, focus will shift to Dix, who already has a huge deal with Nike and signed a sunglasses deal with Oakley. We love his unique look with the braids and the glasses and you have to love that he scored two bronzes in two of the toughest races, the 100 and 200 meters, in his first Olympics right out of school.
- Lin Dan, badminton player, China. Lin Dan became the first No. 1 seed in men's singles to win the gold and in his home country no less, where they adore their version of John McEnroe.
- Zou Kai, gymnast, China. Zou takes away three golds in these games – the team gold, the horizontal bars and the floor exercise. Having been in the crowd, I know that China loves its gymnasts.
- Chris Hoy, cyclist, Great Britain. Hoy became the first British athlete in 100 years to win three gold medals in a single Olympiad. With London coming up, and a nickname of "Hoycules," this guy isn't going away.
- Sammy Wanjiru, marathon runner, Kenya. This 21-year-old is the equivalent of a king in Kenya thanks to the fact that winning the Olympic marathon in record time all of a sudden makes him a runner that marathons want (think appearance fees). Giving Kenya its first marathon gold is an additional benefit in his native land is a nice plus as is having the most high profile medal presentation by being awarded his hardware at the closing ceremony.
- Britta Steffen, swimmer, Germany. Steffen's two golds in the pool, including her dramatic victory over Torres in the 50-meter free, made Steffen one of the stars of Team Adidas. The fact that she also hails from Germany helps her negotiating position with the sportswear brand that is based in her country.
- Brian Clay, decathlete, USA. Clay easily won the decathlon, joining the likes of Bruce Jenner and Dan Johnson. Much more focus is put on the world's fastest man than Clay's new title of the world's greatest athlete, but Clay is an awesome spokesman and his good looks don't hurt.
- Ma Lin, men's table tennis player, China. Ma won the gold in Beijing and helped his Chinese teammates to the team title. Table tennis is huge here, so it helps that he's the best in the world.
- Dayron Robles, Cuba. The world record holder in the 110-meter hurdles would be higher on this list, but we're not sure how hard it is to make a marketing buck in Cuba. We love the fact that he's a hurdler and wore regular glasses while running for the gold.
- Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb & Pippa Wilson, sailors, Great Britain. Sailors don't exactly scream corporate campaign, but they care about this sport as the host of the next Summer Games. We like the fact that these gals already have a great nickname: "Three Blondes in a Boat."
- Donny Robinson, BMX, USA. Donny took bronze in the first Olympics with this exciting sport. While Mike Day took the silver, we like Robinson more because we're told he's a bit more funky and fits the part. Robinson makes the list here without gold because we feel he'll be a beneficiary from the growth of the sport.
- Abhinav Bindra, shooter, India. Think of all the golds that China won and then think about the fact that India also has a population of more than 1 billion and this man was its only gold medallist. "As long as the sun and moon remain, the nation will remember your name," the crowd reportedly chanted when he arrived back home at the airport in New Delhi.
- Matthias Steiner, weightlifter, Germany. We can't remember the last weightlifter that was marketable, but Steiner's story could have been the most heartwarming story of the games. His wife died last year and after lifting 569 pounds for gold, he started crying. Seeing a grown man cry is touching. Seeing a guy do it after lifting that much weight and holding a picture of his wife is priceless.
- Elena Isinbayeva, pole vault, Russia. She's the world record holder with two golds to her resume. Like many pole vaulters, she wears little and has a great body.
- Jason Lezak, swimmer, USA. Two amazing relays, including the fastest split of all time in the 4-by-100 free that gave Phelps his second gold and saved his quest for eight. Anyone who can't afford Phelps might want to invest in Lezak.
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