Athletes who fell after much marketing hype

Updated: February 25, 2006, 10:25 PM ET
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

We admit it has been hard to find the true marketing winners of this Olympics.

Shaun White was a millionaire before the rest of the world fell in love with his gold-medal winning performance and his "Flying Tomato" nickname. Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis sabotaged any good will by getting nasty. Bode Miller flopped. Apolo slipped. Lindsey Jacobellis tricked herself out of the gold. Sasha Cohen stumbled out of the top spot, and Michelle Kwan bowed out before the games even started.

With official marketing partners paying more than $60 million for this quadrennial, here's our list of the worst Olympic marketing moments.

1. Reebok, Barcelona 1992
Reebok made stars of Dave Johnson and Dan O'Brien in commercials leading up to the Olympics. The two decathletes were medal favorites, and the shoe and apparel company provided an avenue to introduce them to the world. The problem was O'Brien, who won the 1991 World Championships, missed the opening height in the pole vault and failed to qualify for the Olympics. Reebok, which spent a reported $25 million, was left with egg on its face. Dave took home the bronze, but -- to make things worse -- Czech Robert Zmelik, who won the gold, was also a Reebok endorser. Zmelik didn't appear in a single piece of advertising.

2. Bode Miller, Torino 2006
His 2005 World Cup victory made it impossible for corporate sponsors to resist. Miller inked large-exposure deals with Nike, Visa and Barilla pasta. In January, he told "60 Minutes" that, the day after he clinched the World Cup title, he skied drunk. Miller later apologized, but he never denied he was intoxicated. Later in the month, Miller used his platform to imply San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds and seven-time Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong were cheaters and using performance-enhancing drugs. At the Olympics, Miller placed fifth in the men's downhill, crashed in the combined, was disqualified in the super-G, came in sixth in the giant slalom and did not finish the slalom. His more than 10 sponsors, including Visa, Nike, Barilla pasta, Charles Schwab and atomic skis, clearly couldn't benefit off his 0-for-5 performance. Lowell Taub, Miller's agent, said he couldn't speculate on how many marketing dollars his client lost because "Bode's strategy was not necessarily to make millions after his Olympic success."

3. Jean Racine and Jen Davidson, Salt Lake City 2002
These two bobsledders raked in the dough before the games, earning more than $500,000 in sponsorships with Visa, General Motors, Northwestern Mutual Insurance and Kellogg's. But Racine fired Davidson just two weeks before the Olympic trials and all the marketing materials no longer made sense. Racine, who was then dubbed "Mean Jean," recruited Gea Johnson, a former heptathlete, but Johnson hurt her hamstring and the team finished fifth. Meanwhile, the second U.S. team -- Vonetta Flowers and Jill Bakken -- won gold. Four years later, Racine -- with her new married name of Prahm -- teamed up with Flowers but was upstaged again. The other American team took home the silver, and Prahm settled for sixth.

4. Paul Hamm, Athens 2004
Hamm became the first American gymnast to win the men's individual all-around, but South Korean bronze medalist Yang Tae-Young claimed a scoring error cost him the gold. Many called for Hamm to return his medal, but he said the scoring error wasn't his fault. An arbitration panel later ruled that the gold was Hamm's to keep, but the controversy tarnished his marketability even though he took home two silver medals, as well.

5. Izzy, Atlanta 1996
The first computer-generated mascot turned out to be an ambiguous blue blob whose name was derived from his original name "Whatizit." He was supposed to represent a 15-year-old fictitious boy who lived in Torch World, a city located inside the Olympic flame. Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons," called Izzy "the bad marriage of the Pillsbury Doughboy and the ugliest California Raisin," and NBC announcer Bob Costas likened the mascot to "a genetic experiment gone horribly, ghastly wrong." Izzy was so hideous that producers of the Opening and Closing ceremonies kept him away from the festivities.

6. Lindsey Jacobellis, Turin 2006
Jacobellis, who made her name in the X Games, was the can't-miss marketing star of pre-Olympics hype. The snowboarder signed deals with Nike, Kellogg's, Dunkin' Donuts, Sprint and Paul Mitchell. She had a chance to benefit from the fact that her sport, snowboardcross, was the talk of the Olympics. Jacobellis was on her way to securing the gold medal when she grabbed her board to add some extra flair near the finish line. She fell and was forced to settle for the silver medal. She'll still be a star in the growing sport, but she lost the chance to transcend it and become a mainstream icon.

7. Nike, Sydney 2000
Reebok had "Dan and Dave." Nike had its horrendous slasher ad, a spoof of a horror film. The commercial opened with a scene of Olympic runner Suzy Hamilton relaxing in a cabin in the woods. She realizes she is not alone. Soon after, she is being chased through the woods by a chainsaw-wielding masked maniac. Hamilton -- in her Nike shoes -- successfully outruns the man as the commercial leaves viewers with this: "Why sport? You'll live longer." After NBC received so many complaints that the ad encouraged violence against women, it soon pulled the spots off the air. Said Nike vice president Charlie Denson: "We have a history of making controversial ads, and we certainly have succeeded in that."

8. Marion Jones, Athens 2004
Jones was the darling of the 2000 Games in Sydney, becoming the first woman to win five track medals in one Olympics. But she was constantly connected to drug accusations. Her then husband, shot put champion C.J. Hunter, was banned from those Olympics after a positive drug test. In 2004, Jones and her partner, sprinter Tim Montgomery, were being mentioned as part of doping allegations connected to the BALCO scandal (Jones recently settled a $25 million defamation lawsuit against BALCO founder Victor Conte; Montgomery was banned from the sport for two years). Jones -- the face of Nike, American Express, GNC and Panasonic -- later failed to qualify for the 100 meters at the Olympic trials and finished fifth in the long jump in Athens.

9. Michelle Kwan, Torino 2006
A groin injury forced Kwan out of nationals, but she successfully petitioned for a spot on the Olympic team. Coca-Cola and Visa made significant investments in the much-heralded figure skater, who was going for her third chance at a gold (she won the silver in 1998 and the bronze in 2002). But Kwan was forced to withdraw after she hurt herself in practice in Torino. Coca-Cola pulled an ad where an all-male cheerleading team rooted her on, while Visa awkwardly kept running its spots. Kwan's marketing potential was hurt slightly, but her long, successful career has cushioned the impact of never having an Olympic gold medal.

10. USA Basketball, Athens 2004
Since NBA stars started playing for the U.S. team in 1992, the only medal that was brought back was gold. Lacking team chemistry, these NBA stars won the bronze, producing arguably the most disappointing performance in Olympics history. After losing just two games in all previous Olympic tournaments, the Americans lost three games in Athens, including a 19-point blowout vs. Puerto Rico. NBA arenas didn't empty, and players on the team -- including LeBron James and Allen Iverson -- didn't see their endorsement income dwindle. Still, Olympic jerseys did hit sales racks and USA Basketball sponsors certainly didn't get their money's worth.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter