Branding our Olympic heroes - Metro US

Branding our Olympic heroes

The fortunes of Canada’s Olympic movement are rising. On the heels of the most successful performance ever at the Vancouver 2010 Games, there is a new leadership group and clearly an intense focus on branding our Olympic heroes.

It’s all happened so fast.

The increased focus on Canadian Olympians is more than welcome. Too often in the past they’ve been ignored in the years between Games.

Change is afoot.

This weekend in Montreal there will be a parade featuring the medallists from the home Olympics. Legends including kayak star Caroline Brunet, sprinter Bruny Surin and speedskater Susan Auch will be enshrined in Canada’s Olympic Hall of Fame.

A Bell Centre gala featuring musical headliners, Simple Plan, Sarah McLachlan and Tom Cochrane will serenade the athletes and invited corporate guests who will, no doubt, empty their pockets in aid of the cause.

The big splash will usher in new Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Aubut and his lieutenants, CEO Jean Dupre and chief marketing officer Chris Overholt. They will trot out the athletes as proof positive the Olympics are cool.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t foreshadow a trend, which will see the Olympic movement in this country turned into something resembling just another professional sports venture.

Aubut and Overholt come from that world. The former was on the NHL’s board of governors as president of the Quebec Nordiques.

Overholt marketed the Toronto Raptors, Florida Panthers and the Miami Dolphins. Only Dupre has a long-standing association with Olympic sport as the head of Speed Skating Canada.

While the new group has credentials, the old one, including CEO Chris Rudge, chief operating officer Lou Ragagnin and chief marketing officer David Bedford managed the current financial crisis heroically and enabled spectacular performances by Canadian athletes.

“It was my heart and soul,” said Bedford of his longtime association with the COC. He acted in many roles including that of chef de mission at the 2004 Athens Olympics. “We’re all proud of what we were able to accomplish,” he said.

In the wake of so much success there is a huge shift in the direction of the COC. And there is an agenda on the part of the new boss.

“With combined decades of solid business marketing, revenue generation and sport administration experience, Dupre and and Overholt have the passion and acumen to help the Canadian Olympic team become the No. 1 sports franchise in Canada,” said Aubut of his new team at the top.

Let’s hope the Canadian Olympic movement continues to be something more than a franchise capable of turning gold medals into a solid bottom line.

The Olympics are about more than branding and business. A little heart and soul never hurts.

– Gemini Award winner and author Scott Russell is the Host of CBC Sports Weekend seen Saturday afternoons. A 20-year CBC Sports veteran, he has covered a variety of professional and amateur sports including nine Olympic games and numerous world championships.

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