For many Olympic athletes, all that glitters may not be gold.
Sure, a few standout athletes from this year's Olympic Games will likely be able to parlay their medals into endorsement dollars. Figure skating's newest sweetheart, gold medal winner Sarah Hughes, for instance, has already gotten her picture on a Wheaties box and many marketing pundits expect her to garner the lion's share of endorsers' attention this winter.
But for the more than 200 other American athletes who competed in the Games, the euphoria of competing in the Olympics will soon come crashing up against the harsh realization that they need to find a job just like the rest of us.
"There are over 30 medals that were won for the U.S. Of those … you're really only talking about the top three to six that are going to have the kind of deals in the million dollar range," predicts Mike Paul, president of public relations firm MGP & Associates and an adjunct professor of communications and marketing at New York University. "Not everyone who wins a gold medal will have Madison Avenue shining down on them."
Unfortunately for them, many Olympic caliber athletes lack what many of us working stiffs already have — work experience and a solid résumé. In order to support their rigorous training schedules and travel to international competitions, many athletes either live on grants, work part-time jobs or put off their education. So finding a traditional job can pose a challenge for them.
Agony of Defeat
Former Olympian Jimmy Pedro knows this story all too well. A three-time judo star who made his first Olympic appearance at the Barcelona Games in '92, Pedro was widely expected to win the gold medal in Sydney in 2000 after capturing the bronze medal in the '96 Atlanta Games.
"I was very successful," says Pedro. "I won a world title in '99, was favored to win gold in 2000. I was hoping that if I could do that then at least I could get some bonus money and at least have a three to six month cushion that would last before I had to start looking for a job."
But it wasn't to be. Pedro finished fifth in the 2000 Olympics, and left the competition knowing that he would have to abandon his Olympic aspirations for good.
"At this point I was a father of three, with zero income," he says. "I knew as soon as I got home from Sydney that I was going to have to find a job right away."
Looking for Olympians
Luckily, Pedro did find something pretty quickly. Employment Web site Monster.com approached the judo master shortly after the 2000 Games about starting up an online service that helps connect employers with ex-Olympians who are looking for jobs.
The site, called TeamUSAnet, features a resume builder, job listings and an Olympic mentoring network in which athletes can seek advice from former Olympians who successfully made the transition from being an athlete to the working world. Among the volunteers is five-time gold medal speed skater Eric Heiden, who is now an orthopedic surgeon at the University of California, Davis.
Since the end of the Salt Lake City Games, the site has garnered much more interest from athletes than from employers — around 34 companies have posted jobs so far compared to around 500 ex-Olympians looking for work. But Pedro is optimistic that more companies will come on board once word spreads about the site.
"We're hoping this is the one place where anybody who is interested in hiring an athlete will come post their job," he says.