The Olympics give huge exposure to athletes from beyond America's
staple sports of basketball, football and baseball, but that window
is open only briefly and failure means a swift return to relative
"America is looking for somebody to emerge and it needs to be in one
of the high profile sports or someone who has an exceptionally good
story," said Charles R. Taylor, professor of marketing at Villanova
University in Pennsylvania.
"America is looking for that next superstar."
Vonn and White fitted the bill in Vancouver four years ago.
Vonn's glamorous image and triumph in the downhill and made her a
hot property for companies such as Rolex, Red Bull and Procter &
Gamble and she is worth a reported $3 million.
Her relationship with golfer Tiger Woods has only added to her
White, once nicknamed "The Flying Tomato" because of his long ginger
locks, has used success in the Olympics to become an iconic figure
for rebellious teenagers around the world, building a fortune
estimated at around $20 million.
The Californian, who has endorsements deals with snowboard brand
Burton and Oakley sunglasses, has also helped the Games to connect
with a younger audience who love the thrill of edgy "extreme
A serious knee injury denied Vonn the chance to come to Russia to
defend her downhill title and has reduced her Olympic role to
appearances as an analyst on NBC television.
For White, Sochi has been a humbling experience.
The 27-year-old dropped out of the new slopestyle event after
judging the course too risky and then missed out on a medal in the
halfpipe event he had won in 2006 and 2010.
PLACE IN AMERICAN HEARTS
With the NFL's Super Bowl out of the way and the north-east of the
United States shivering under a blanket of snow, the stage is set
for a new star to capture the imagination of the U.S. media.
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The trouble is that no one has stepped up to the plate yet.
"The Olympics always provides that opportunity," said Michael
Principe, chief executive of TLA Worldwide, a company that
represents athletes in sports including golf and baseball.
"You see it in snowboarding with Shaun White and skiing with Lindsey
Vonn," he said.
"There's also a place in American hearts for ice sports with
athletes like speed skaters Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair."
Blair won five gold medals between 1988 and 1994, while Jansen's was
a touching story of family tragedy followed by sporting triumph.
Jansen lost his sister to leukemia just before he raced in the 1988
Games in Calgary and the grief-stricken skater fell in both races.
Olympic gold looked set to elude him before he clinched victory in
the 1,000 meters in Lillehammer in 1994.
The Americans have surprisingly failed to win a medal in speed
skating so far.
They are now looking to next week's figure skating to see if
contender Gracie Gold can live up to her name.
"Women's figure skating is the event that can instantly produce a
star," said Villanova University's Taylor.
Gold's team mate Ashley Wagner acknowledged that America wanted to
find a new darling of the rink.
"I would love to be that person," she said.
"There is pressure to become that obviously because that is what
skating needs right now."
(Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel;
editing by Peter
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