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Stephen Colbert (and his Nation) sponsor US Speed Skating
November 6, 2009 - Christie Sausa
It has been a turbulent year for US Speed Skating, in positive and negative ways. There have been some positive changes in the form of new athletes expected to perform well at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, and old rivalries being set aside. One such newcomer who is expected to do very well is Trevor Marsicano, a Lake Placid Speed Skating Club member and alumni of the Lake Placid Oval. Last year he won the World Single Distance Championships, being the youngest athlete ever to medal at the Championships. This has been a great boost for the US Speed skating team; not only do long track skaters Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis represent the team, but so do other young promising skaters, like Marsicano and his teammate, Brian Hansen. In short track, Apolo Anton Ohno will be joined by young hopeful J.R. Celski, who has already been proving himself as the next great American short track skater. In addition, Hedrick and Davis have put aside past arguments and are now ready to work cohesively as a team with each other. So things were looking bright for the US Speed Skating team….until last month.
On October 19th, DSB Bank, a Dutch Bank that was US Speed Skating’s primary sponsor, declared bankruptcy. This was unfortunate not only for their customers, but for US Speed Skaters. Still skating with the DSB logo prominently displayed on their skinsuits, athletes and sport executives alike wondered about the future of the sport, especially so close to the Olympic Games. US Speed Skating lost 300,000 dollars on the failed deal; a fact made even worse during this tough economic time. Matters started to improve the next month, when help came from an unlikely source- Stephen Colbert, who hosts the satirical news comedy show the Colbert Report on Comedy Central. On Monday’s Colbert Report, Colbert had Olympic speed skater Dan Jansen as a guest. Like most of the viewers at home, I expected him to poke fun at the speed skaters (especially the skin suit- that seems to be popular joke material), then move on to the next topic. I was surprised when the subject of US Speedskating’s no-sponsorship status was brought up. I was more surprised when Colbert proposed that the Nation (referring to his fans) become the sponsors of US Speed skating! Executive Director of US Speed Skating Bob Crowley was present to help sign the paperwork, and Colbert Nation is now the official main sponsor of the US Speed skating Team. “We want to ensure that it is America’s 38 inch thighs on the medal podium” Colbert quipped during the show. I was shocked….and promptly started searching the internet to check the validity of the statement; I wanted to make sure it wasn’t some elaborate joke. But it was indeed true- US Speed Skating is being sponsored by Colbert Nation. Donations are being accepted online, and on Tuesday the 3rd, 40,000 dollars had already been raised.
Of course, there are differing opinions about the sponsorship. Some athletes (not necessarily those on the Olympic team) argue that having Colbert poking fun at speed skaters- and the affiliation with the sometimes radical comedy show- will just make the sport look bad. Others argue that any publicity is good publicity, and Colbert is not a bad ally to have. Either way, US Speed Skating does need publicity, since unlike Europe, speed skating is a very obscure sport in America. Most of all, they need a solid sponsorship. Personally, I am thrilled that Colbert Nation is sponsoring US Speed Skating; the way I perceive it, there are more positives than negatives. US Speed Skating will receive funding and much needed exposure before the games. There will also be a lot of opportunities to showcase the athletes- for example, on Thursday November 5th, US Speed Skater and Olympian Joey Cheek was a guest on the show. Sure, much of the time was spent discussing Vancouver’s policy on limited access to non-Canadian athletes to the venues….but there was still a speed skater on television other than Apolo Anton Ohno (who has commented that he would love to get on the show). Certainly, we will have to hear jokes about spandex and massive thighs for a few months…..but at least we are in the press. Colbert plans to have Olympic-bound speed skaters on the show in the next few months. According to Bob Crowley, it has been impressed upon the Colbert team that the sport is very difficult and requires a lot of training and dedication, and therefore should not be belittled too much. "We stressed to the Colbert staff that we have exquisite athletes who have trained their entire lives for that Olympic platform. They can't minimize that. They get it, and they recognize that,” said Crowley in a Time article about the deal.
So what’s the next course of action now that Colbert Nation is sponsoring US Speed Skating? Putting the iron-on patches on the skin suits in time. "We are scrambling like crazy to get the logos on the uniforms this weekend”, said Crowley. This weekend the short track and long track teams are competing in World Cup assignments, the long track team in Berlin, and the short track team in Montreal.
If you wish to donate, donations can be made on the Colbert Nation website (www.colbertnation.com) or on the US Speed Skating Website (www.usspeedskating.org).
As always, for more information about skating news in Lake Placid and beyond, check out my blog www.lakeplacidskater.blogspot.com!
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Dan Jansen (left) and Stephen Colbert (right) look on while US Speed Skating's Bob Crowley (front left) signs the documents for Colbert Nation to be the official sponsor of US Speed Skating.