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01.24.12
Washington Post: Olympian Nick Symmonds Auctions Space on His Shoulder

Read the article at Washingtonpost.com.

How much is a spot on an Olympian's shoulder worth?

Nick Symmonds put his skin on the eBay auction site, offering to wear a temporary tattoo with the name of the highest bidder as he competes for a spot on the U.S. team for the London Games this summer.

The stunt wasn’t so much to make money as it was to make a point. Symmonds, a four-time U.S. outdoor champion in the 800 meters, is a vocal critic of what he says are the “antiquated” sponsorship rules of track and field’s international ruling body, the IAAF, and to a lesser extent, the guidelines of USA Track & Field.

He says those rules limit the amount of money athletes can bring in to pursue their careers.

“My No. 1 goal, aside from making the Olympic team and winning a medal, is to bring awareness to how many struggling athletes there are out there — and wouldn’t be if we could just lift these regulations and allow athletes to pursue individual sponsorships a little more freely,” he said.

The space on Symmonds’ shoulder commanded $11,100 from a Wisconsin-based active lifestyle marketing firm, Hanson Dodge Creative. In return for the winning bid announced on Wednesday, Symmonds will wear the company’s Twitter name prominently displayed on his left shoulder throughout the season.

Symmonds won’t be able to show the logo at certain events, especially international meets governed by the IAAF. Instead, he’ll wear a big bandage over the tattoo, which he believes will bring even more attention to both the company and his personal cause.

He said he’ll have to cover up on Feb. 18 when he is expected to run in the Sydney Grand Prix. The first time he’ll be able to show it is on May 5, when he plans to run at the Oregon Twilight in Eugene.

Logos and branding have become a big issue in track because athletes depend on sponsorship dollars to be able to train and travel. But there are numerous restrictions on their use and the results can sometimes be almost comical, with athletes forced to use duct tape to cover company emblems and names on their clothes and shoes.

Camille Herron, who ran in the Olympic marathon trials last weekend in Houston, blogged about how she had to cover up the logos of her sponsors, some of which she thought were approved, and have a witness sign off that everything was hidden.

“It’s official: I should seek sponsorship with Duck Tape,” she wrote.

There are numerous forces at play when it comes to a track and field athlete’s ability to display what essentially is an advertisement.

International rules were relaxed earlier this year to permit another small logo, in addition to a shoe and clothing sponsor. But some meets have tighter restrictions because of event sponsors. And some sponsors have exclusivity rules written into contracts with athletes that bar them from wearing multiple logos.

The USATF largely follows the policies in place for specific events. For example, the Prefontaine Classic, held each year in Eugene, Ore., is an IAAF Diamond League event and falls under the international rules. This year’s Olympic Trials will be held in Eugene this summer under Olympic rules.

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