The C Score (2.0)

Posts Tagged ‘Carly Patterson

In shocking news, Nastia Liukin was named FIG Athlete of the Year. The FIG, with their ever stellar Web presence, has so far only posted a press release, but USA Gymnastics has a little blurb about it too.

Liukin won the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year award earlier this fall. According to this USAG press release, she’s the first U.S. gymnast to do so since Mary Lou Retton, which leaves Carly Patterson the odd woman out. She was also named USOC’s Athlete of the Month in August.

She hasn’t won USAG’s Athlete of the Year award yet, but of course she will. She already won it once, in 2005, and tied with Chellsie Memmel for the award in 2006. Shawn Johnson, naturally, won the award last year.

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This article from USA Today takes up the same issue I’ve discussed in my last two posts: post-Olympics celebrity.

The reporter seems to argue that Mary Lou Retton has faded from the spotlight, which is generally true, except that she always gets a little airtime during Olympic years. And in any case, this is not to say that she has not been successful (she’s a successful motivational speaker).

Then again, I’m a little skeptical of Retton’s claim that she dropped out of U-Texas because classmates were jealous of her fame. The school I went to has its fair share of celebrities, and I don’t think jealousy is their main concern. In any case, I’m most admiring of people like Shannon Miller, who not only completing her college degree but pursuing a higher degree (in law). (And of course people like Kim Zmeskal-Burdette, who have made their careers coaching.)

By contrast, the article also mentions Carly Patterson, who has been unsuccessful in my opinion. Her biggest audiences are at gymnastics events, and those kids love Patterson for other reasons anyway.

The ultimate conclusion is that you don’t make a name for yourself out of gymnastics. You do gymnastics because you love the sport, and even if you get the big endorsements — Retton had more major ones than Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson combined — you still have to find something to do with the rest of your life. That can be in gymnastics, or not. But as Kristi Yamaguchi says at the end of this article:

“I worked as hard or harder to build a professional reputation. If you want a career post-Olympics, you can’t just rest on laurels.”

This article from a few days ago in the San Diego Union Tribune highlights an interesting phenomenon from this first post-Olympic month.

Shawn Johnson was in town for the filming of “Frosted Pink with a Twist,” a charity event I described in a previous post, and the Union-Tribune spoke to her between appearances at 5 local T.V. stations. Though she didn’t get the Wheaties box, Johnson has major deals with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and adidas, among others.

As this article notes:

It’s easy to forget that Johnson didn’t win the individual all-around gold medal in Beijing (Liukin did) and that her lone gold came in the balance beam (she won silvers in team, all-around and floor exercise). But Johnson’s magnetic appeal is a lesson in Marketing 101: that what you win is sometimes less important than what you represent, and a freckled kid from America’s heartland with an infectious smile is a hot commodity.

This comes as no surprise. Johnson has an infectious smile and a tremendously upbeat personality. Liukin is graceful and beautiful, obviously, but in an almost forbidding way. Johnson simply looks more like Mary Lou.

Compare Mary Lou’s experience to Carly Patterson’s four years ago. This great article from the Los Angeles Times caught up with Patterson recently. She’s still trying to pursue that singing career, but it isn’t working out so well. As the article notes:

Four years ago, [Carly] Patterson seemed well-placed to become America’s New Sweetheart. As soon as Patterson was in position to win that gold, journalists swarmed [Mary Lou] Retton to ask if this blond-haired Texan would finally push her into the history books. “I hope so,” Retton replied. “It’s time for someone to take my place.” It didn’t happen.

Let’s go back to Liukin and Johnson. Do we think that if Johnson had won that Liukin would be seeing as many appearance requests as Johnson is now? I’m skeptical. Patterson said of herself:

“My nature is not like Mary Lou. … Mary Lou is bubbly. I was never bubbly.”

The same is true of Liukin. She’s pleasant when she’s on talk shows, but she doesn’t draw in all populations in the crowd the same way Johnson does.

So far, this issue may be a little superficial. But then we have to think about what this means for the gymnasts, and, namely, what they can do with their fame. Some athletes, like Michelle Kwan, have become role models (and, in her case, political appointees) while others, especially those who have tried to use their athletic careers to pursue careers in entertainment, have fallen from the spotlight very quickly.

We like capitalism in this country, but, at least in our Olympic athletes (can’t say the same for professional athletes in the NBA, etc.), we want true role models too. So far, I’ve been most impressed with Chellsie Memmel’s decision to start a literacy campaign called There’s More Than One Way to Flip, which supports literacy in the greater Milwaukee area. I hope there’s more to come from the other team members.

The conclusion is best put by Evan Morgenstein, who is a big-time agent for gymnasts (Liukin is one of them … we’ll have to wait and see how he does with her):

“In the Olympics, being America’s next little sweetheart is not just about winning gold. It’s about having a story and a willingness to want to be involved in doing the things you need to do, about having an impact on young kids’ lives and about wanting to give back to your sport. When the cameras turn off you have to be willing to do things that aren’t all about making money.”

And then, there’s the famous smile …

Shawn Johnson

Shawn Johnson