There is the perception that athletes in the Olympic Games run, swim, or skate through the finish line directly into a cushy future of speaking engagements, TV commercials, product endorsements, and other lucrative enterprises. And there is proof of this: Dorothy Hamill still skates and does TV commentary, Cathy Rigby is on Broadway, Picabo Street hawks sunglasses and lip balm, Carl Lewis gives motivational speeches.
But for every one of those post-Olympic success stories, there are thousands of less-than-golden tales. Driving a bobsled as well as anyone in the world or being the fourth-fastest speed skater doesnt necessarily equate with success after the Games end. In fact, over half of the more than 80,000 Olympians world-wide now live in poverty.
Looking to change that sad fact, the World Olympians Association (WOA) has teamed with the Us David Eccles School of Business during the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. There are two goals for the partnershipto offer post-Games career training to both past and present Olympians, and to provide a place where those same athletes can relax and hang out with friends and family.
Many athletes are so focused on the Games, they dont know what to do afterward, says Jack Brittain, dean of the School of Business.
The WOA was created to address that problem. Other sports associations, such as the National Football League and the National Hockey League, have players associations that address issues such as pensions for retired athletes and outreach to those in need. No such help existed for former Olympians until 1994, when the Centennial Olympic Congress and the International Olympic Committee formed the WOA. Its first real exposure came during the 1996 Atlanta Games. By the 2000 Games in Sydney, the WOA had attracted more than 5,000 noncompeting athletes. This will be the first time the WOA has had a presence at a Winter Games.
The educational portion of the Eccles School/WOA partnership will involve providing job-searching skillssuch as résumé writing, interviewing, and networkingto the athletes at the schools Christensen Center. The FranklinCovey Company will offer a seminar program to help athletes translate the life knowledge they have acquired through athletics into personal success. These seminars help people translate what they knowtraining and competitioninto the skills employers are going to value, says Brittain.
On a recent trip to Salt Lake City to meet and finalize the arrangement with the U of U, WOA Director Liston Bochette noted, Most Olympians dont know the value of their Olympic skills and experience. Brittain agrees. Those who compete at an Olympic level, especially in winter sports, must have personal discipline and tremendous drive in pursuit of a goal, he says. This dedication can pay off for individuals in a work career, if they can find the entry opportunity.
Besides career training, this partnership will create a social center for WOA members at the Christensen Center. The buildings two plasma screen televisions, usually set to nonstop financial news, will instead broadcast round-the-clock Games coverage. The café will be open and computers will be available for Internet surfing. Most important, the setting will be a casual place to meetparents and friends who wont have clearance to enter the Olympic Village will be allowed at the World Olympian Center.
The School of Business has also agreed to provide an unspecified number of scholarships to WOA members for both undergraduate and graduate study. The Olympic experience prepares individuals to be great students, Brittain says. He also thinks the proximity of the U of U campus to nearby training facilities would make the school an attractive option for current and future Olympians.
The association between the WOA and the School of Business will be the first time a university has taken a role in helping athletes start or continue their educations. I think we are changing the WOA by giving them a vision of what is possible, Brittain says. It starts with the motto we have for the World Olympian Center: Few medal, all are winners.
Randy Hanskat is a writer in University Marketing and Communications.