For some Olympic athletes, it's the haves vs. have-nots

Over his remarkable career, swimmer Michael Phelps has struck sponsorship deals with Speedo, Subway, Under Armour athletic wear, Omega watches and Procter & Gamble. But not everyone at the London Games can be showered with corporate largesse like the most decorated Olympian of all time.
By NICOLE WINFIELD Modified: August 6, 2012 at 10:12 pm •  Published: August 7, 2012
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Over his remarkable career, Michael Phelps has struck sponsorship deals with Speedo, Subway, Under Armour athletic wear, Omega watches and Procter & Gamble.

But not everyone at the London Games can be showered with corporate largesse like the most decorated Olympian of all time. Most work one, two, even seven jobs while finding time to train to face fully funded pros.

In this battle of haves and have-nots at the London Games, the have-nots include a dentist and a disc jockey, a Buddhist monk and a one-time brothel owner.

Irish boxer Darren O'Neill quit his job teaching at Holy Trinity Primary School in Dublin to train full-time for the Olympics — and isn't sure he'll get the job back when he goes home.

He also had to give up hurling, a rough-and-tumble native Irish sport that combines elements of field hockey, rugby and soccer. It is dominant in his hometown, hurling-mad Kilkenny.

“I enjoyed the teaching as a release from boxing, too, and took a risk in leaving,” he said. “It was a tough decision, same as leaving the hurling, but boxing gave me more personal satisfaction.”

O'Neill lost last week in his second bout, to Stefan Hartel, of Germany, but he'll go back to find a hand-painted banner on the school roof that says “Good luck Mr. O'Neill.”

Lance Brooks, an American discus thrower, worked as a bouncer and bartender and what's known as a barbacker — restocking the cooler and taking out the trash — when he moved to Denver five years ago and started to train.

He also worked Colorado Rockies baseball games, coached at a local high school, worked at an oil-change service and did construction — all before his coach told him to cut out some of the jobs or lose his trainer.

Kai Jahnssan, a pistol shooter, serves in Finland's Coast Guard Air Flight Patrol as a helicopter rescue swimmer. Another marksman has a job more suited to his Olympic discipline: Italy's Luca Tesconi, who won the silver in 10-meter air pistol, is a police officer in Tuscany.

Mark Adams, a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, said the IOC distributes more than 90 percent of its revenue from TV rights and sponsorship deals to national Olympic committees, in part to ease the burden on athletes.

The IOC has its own program, Solidarity, that provides training, equipment and travel money for particularly needy athletes.

“We have a responsibility to balance an elite games with sport for all,” Adams said. “We try to make it as level a playing field as possible.”

That is more possible when national Olympic committees and sport federations receive government money.

When they don't, or when there isn't enough money to go around, athletes have little choice but to go it alone — eking out a living and scrambling for sponsorship deals when they can get them.



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