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David Rudisha: time to translate track into commercial success

OLYMPICS By - By Temba Ol’ltichil’lo | August 11th 2012 | 3 min read

By Temba Ol’ltichil’lo

When the dust has settled on London, a host of athletes will emerge with pockets bulging from cash injections from sponsors and commercial deals.

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt could double his $20 million a year in earnings; Briton heptathlete Jessica Ennis could increase her $1 million a year five-fold, and then there is the question of Kenyan middle distance ace David Rudisha.

Figures are not readily available of Rudisha’s earnings in sponsorships and commercial deals.  It is acknowledged in the sport that although he came into the Olympics little known out of his chosen sport, he had the historic opportunity to turn that on its head.

Part of that he achieved by obliterating the field in the 800 metres on his way to a Gold, winning the admiration of some of the biggest names in sport – former British middle distance star Stephen “Steve” Cram and his friend Sebastian Coe, the chief local organiser of the London Olympics. Cram was so impressed that he called Rudisha “The Greatest 800 metres athlete ever”.

Debate was raging furiously about what Rudisha needs to do to lift his profile beyond the sport and propel his bank account to the millions of dollars. BBC pundit Denise Lewis, a retired British heptathlete, suggested that Rudisha’s achievements on the track were at the level that commanded commercial attention while American great Michael Johnson argued that the 800 metres as a race has not established itself as a money puller.

The mild-mannered Rudisha has endeared himself greatly to the British public, and overnight posters with his face in the city appeared to have increased significantly.

I overheard the other day some Kenyans talking about sponsorship in a rather laid back manner. One was suggesting that a sponsor has sent an advertising company to the games village to shoot some spots with Kenya’s track and field team. It was meant to be in support of the National Olympic of Kenya. I was surprised because they did not appear to know whether the individual athletes involved had been concerned, and whether they had signed any contracts.

Rudisha is going to be a global brand. A brand has to be nurtured and protected. We have brand police in East London to ensure that companies that are not core sponsors of London 2012 do not advertise their merchandise anywhere near the Olympic Park of any of the principal venues.

That same principle applies with individual brands, like Rudisha is. Brand potential inherent there needs to be explored and stretched to the maximum. That brand also needs to be protected.

Many of Kenya’s top names have not extended their fame (and wealth) beyond the track. Of the legion of star acts to emerge from our beautiful country, only the legend Kipchoge Keino still makes heads turn in and outside athletics. You have to give Keino credit for that. His stage, from 1968, has expanded and traversed the globe.

Sebastian Coe, Rudisha’s close friend, is an example the Kenyan will find worth of emulation. He too has grown beyond the sport. In the UK parliament or in sports management, he has lived the true Olympic spirit and David Lekuta Rudisha is the natural inheritor of that mantle.

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