Olympians to cash in

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 6:53 AM ET

A few weeks back, Michael Budman, co-founder of Roots, a significant corporate backer of Olympic athletes, wondered aloud about the potential of gold-medal kayaker Adam van Koeverden to blaze new trails in building up the profile of amateur sports and amateur athletes in Canada. His company was interested in exploring a sponsorship deal with the 22-year-old Oakville native after van Koeverden won a bronze and gold in Athens, but he was waiting for van Koeverden to find himself representation.

Guess there's a good chance we'll soon be seeing more of van Koeverden on Roots posters, since The Toronto Sun learned yesterday that International Management Group (IMG) Canada has signed both van Koeverden and Kyle Shewfelt, the Calgary native who won gold in Athens in artistic gymnastics, to long-term deals, both of which last through the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. IMG Canada will represent the two in chasing down marketing and sponsorship opportunities. They are the latest additions to IMG's stable of amateur athletes that includes triathlete Simon Whitfield, swimmer Joanne Malar, and diver Alexandre Despatie.

"Adam and Kyle were national role models overnight," IMG Canada's Kevin Albrecht said.

"They want to take advantage of the opportunities they now have, get their message out to kids."

Shewfelt said yesterday the sheer zaniness in terms of requests just after his gold-medal win, especially in Western Canada, put him in a position where he felt he needed management.

"I hope to speak to a lot of kids, companies, and share my Olympic experience with as many people as possible," said Shewfelt, who added he hadn't yet decided if he would be participating in Beijing.

"I think it's a great story, inspirational, motivational. I know as a kid I was so motivated by Olympic champions so I hope to pass that on."

Albrecht said he has noticed a shift, particularly over the past 12 months, in corporate interest in sponsoring grassroots, amateur sports, something athletes like van Koeverden and Shewfelt can tap into.

The appeal with van Koeverden, said Albrecht, is his edge, his outspokenness, where Shewfelt's advantages lie more in his Western Canadian roots, the fact he's more soft-spoken, but just as articulate as van Koeverden, and the fact he comes from a sport, artistic gymnastics, that's dynamic from a visual standpoint.

Albrecht added he expects to see interest in both athletes from almost every IOC and COC sponsor, especially in each of the athlete's categories. The company is now in the process of sitting down with each athlete to plan schedules to get out on the trail and do corporate sales.


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