The perfect marketing and Olympic story is happening in the pool. Nike, the official sponsor and outfitter for the US Olympic team, could, if they wanted to, create a ton of commercials trumpeting the world’s best swimmers competing against one another, one upping a failed marketing program from a competitor.
Think back 20 years ago when we were bombarded with commercials from Reebok about two athletes in a sport that Americans generally had paid little attention to since Bruce Jenner and his flowing hair were the story at the ’76 Olympics. You remember Dan & Dave. For those that need a refresher, or you younger readers out there, here is a sample of the commercials that began airing during the Super Bowl to hype up the top decathletes in the country.
Reebok was banking on these two to fulfill their message of the greatest athlete being settled in Barcelona. Unfortunately, it didn’t workout for Reebok, and especially for Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson. O’Brien, the world record holder, failed to qualify for the Olympic team by missing his pole vault attempt, and Dave struggled to win the bronze in Barcelona. The commercials focus had to change following the botched trials for Dan, and they showed him cheering on Dave. It was a shortsighted campaign from Reebok. Dan did go on to win the gold in Atlanta 4 years later.
But now we have Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. Undeniably, the two best swimmers in the world, and arguably the best rivalry in sports at the moment. It is a friendly rivalry, but they are already putting on a show at the US Olympic Swim Trials. They very first final of the trials had Lochte beating Phelps in the 400m Individual Medley. They followed that up with an exciting finish in the 200m Freestyle in the semifinal, which saw Lochte catch Phelps, then held him off for a win by .02 seconds. Last night, in the finals for the event, Phelps took down Lochte by .05 secs. That is impossible to see by the naked eye. The two of them have one more race at trials against one another, the 200IM. Then it is across the pond for them to finish it. In a perfect world we would see the Phelps from 2008 and this version of Lochte going at it in London.
We know that Phelps is not nearly as great as he once was, that it took him a few years to even find the desire to train again, but it is what it is, and these two are the most even athletes heading into an Olympic competition that we have seen in years. Had Dan cleared his stupid pole vault 20 years ago, Dave Johnson probably doesn’t even medal in Barcelona. The chances of it not coming down to these two is almost zero. They are just better than the competition.
There will be several Olympic stories to hear when Bob Costas sits down in front of the camera, but the real drama will take place in the pool, as it normally does. 4 years ago it was Phelps chasing down the dream of breaking Mark Spitz’s 7 gold medals. He did it. Now it is to see who is the greatest is in the sport between his friend, teammate, and fellow countryman. Lochte and Phelps. Just do it, Nike.