The podium is set for drama and excitement at this year's Vancouver Winter Olympics. Sharing the stage with the athletes are a host of sponsors from the natural products industry. Kimberly Lord Stewart shares the stories behind athletes that are on her Olympic watch list

As many as one in five Americans say they find athlete product endorsements persuasive, according to research by Harris Interactive. With the exception of the bad behaviour of one very famous golfer, this is very good news for companies that sponsor athletes. Functional Ingredients found no shortage of companies in this industry that support Olympic and professional athletes. FI will follow these athletes and others online during the Olympics at www.functionalingredientsmag.com.

Michael McDougall
Media Relations Manager
Afexa Life Sciences, COLD-FX,
the Official Cold and Flu Remedy of the Olympics and Paralympics


FI: How does sponsoring an athlete affect employee morale?

MM: Chandra Crawford, who surprised the world in 2006 by winning gold in Turino, helped launch the company's Go for Gold employee recognition programme, and her enthusiasm is infectious. The staff was very excited to meet her, and to wear her medal. Now, because of that personal connection to one of Canada's gold-medal-hopefuls, we all have a compelling reason to cheer.

The recognition programme she launched — the Go for Gold programme — which has since been recognized by Canada's top publication for human-resources professionals, is the foundation for Afexa's corporate culture. The programme recognizes individuals for demonstrating the qualities that support both commercial and Olympic success: teamwork, commitment, hard work and a positive attitude. With staff members winning opportunities to carry the torch, and to attend Olympic events, Afexa's alignment with the Olympics has been thoroughly motivating.

Kathy Lund
Vice President Marketing and Sales
Bioenergy Life Science,
Ribose Ingredient Division


FI: By sponsoring an athlete, you are essentially investing in someone else's success. What has your company gained by sponsoring athletes?

KL: Bioenergy has taken a very supportive role when sponsoring Olympians. At first glance, Olympic sponsorship usually conjures ideas of medal expectations and world record times. However, Bioenergy sees each Olympian as already being a success. Qualifying for the Olympic games and being identified as one of the greatest athletes in your sport is victory in and of itself. There are number of similar characteristics between the Olympics and Bioenergy Ribose. Bioenergy Ribose is not a stimulant; it is safe and natural while providing ample amounts of energy to the body. The Olympics is the upper echelon of sports and a reflection to keep it as such, the athletes are rigorously tested for illegal substances. Our athletes promote the fact that Bioenergy Ribose is a safe natural way to boost your energy levels. Sponsoring Olympic athletes allows us to make people aware of these similarities.

Val John Anderson
Executive Vice President and Director of Sales and Marketing
Mineral Resources International, Inc., elete Electrolyte Add-In


FI: By sponsoring an athlete, you are essentially investing in someone else's success. What has your company gained by sponsoring athletes? How does the sponsored athlete affect employee morale within the ranks of your company?

VA: Street cred is the most obvious answer. The public expects that the best athletes are in the best position to vet the best products and in many ways they are right. We are also gaining good will by showing that we actively support the communities we sell to.

People like knowing that they are contributing to something good and important. In our case, one of the athletes we sponsor, Sarah Kaufmann, a professional, 24-hour mountain bike champion, now works with our company. She has a firm belief in elete. Seeing that our products help achieve competitive success nourishes enthusiasm and care throughout our company, including in our production employees.

Dan Macuga
Vice President, Marketing and Public Relations
USANA Health Sciences


FI: By sponsoring an athlete, you are essentially investing in someone else's success. What has your company gained by sponsoring athletes?

DM: There are a variety of 'gains' for USANA by sponsoring athletes. First, the company gains exposure when athletes talk to fellow athletes about our nutritional products. Since the athletes are not paid to take our products, they also provide us with great talking points in regards to credibility. Our focus on Olympic athletes also allows us to work with incredible people who will probably never be rich because of the countless hours they spend training, and it gives us the chance to share their 'attitude' with our Associates and employees.

Afexa Olympic Moment
"In Winnipeg for a celebration of the Paralympics, Paul Rosen, a Paralympic Sledge hockey goaltender, gold medalist at Torino (sponsored by Afexa) dropped the puck with Don Cherry, Canadian ice hockey commentator. Nine or ten thousand people cheering for him had less effect on Paul than did Logan, a boy of about 12 who had lost the use of his legs. Paul saw this young man in his wheelchair from the skybox and was eager to speak with him. Logan started playing sledge hockey that season, and his excitement at hefting a Paralympic gold medal was electric. Their conversation about hockey and sledge hockey grew so animated an usher had to ask them to keep it down — at a hockey game!"

—Micheal McDougall


"Having high morale around the office about our athletes and getting emotionally invested go hand in hand. I went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to see Katherine Reutter compete in the Olympic qualifying. Four years ago Katherine was just a teenager who missed the Olympics by one position. This year, Katherine was ranked number one on the team and number two in the world going into competition. She did not disappoint the crowd with her performance. In her very first race, one of the girls she was competing against took an unexpected fall on the ice right in front of Katherine. Instead of resigning herself to an expected trip and equally messy fall, Katherine barrel jumped the girl in the open ice and went on to win the race. It was the start of a very impressive and dominant performance all weekend long. Katherine qualified first for the US Olympic Speed Skating team and secured her trip to Vancouver."

—Kathy Lund

"Since I started taking Bioenergy Ribose I've definitely noticed an improvement in both my endurance and stamina. Bioenergy Ribose has become as much a part of my daily routine as lacing up my skates."


Elete Olympic Moment
"I have seen first-hand over the course of three years just how hard (twin biathletes Lanny and Tracy Barns) have worked and sacrificed to achieve their goals and realize their dreams. From an early age, both girls have worked incredibly hard to compete in the World Cup in the sport of biathlon. They achieved their first World Junior Championship at the age of 18 and received medals the following year in '09. Both girls are now in their early twenties and while most people in their twenties are focused on other, leisurely pursuits, the Barneses maintain a physically and mentally grueling schedule that lasts pretty much year round — no breaks. We, at elete, are definitely rooting for them every step of the way."

—Val John Anderson


USANA Olympic Moment
"There are certainly many athletes that become a part of our family, and we do become emotionally invested, especially true with the amateur and Olympic athletes, and those who have struggled against personal hardships to attain so much. A fairly recent story involves an athlete who is deaf. Daniel Carruthers has achieved much as a cyclist and this year placed sixth in the Deaflympics in Taiwan. But that is only a very small part of the story. While working on his master's degree, in China, and teaching English, he learned to speak Chinese. He is excellent at the language and is about to start his PhD programme in China. My experience with him certainly removes any boundaries I may try to impose on where my limits are in life.

—Dan Macuga


Athletes to watch

Here is a partial list of winter sports athletes sponsored by natural products companies.

Katherine Reutter
Residence: Salt Lake City, Utah
Sport: Short track speed skating
Sponsor: Bioenergy Life Science, Inc.

Shannon Bahrke
Residence: Salt Lake City, Utah
Sport: Freestyle moguls skiing
Sponsor: Bioenergy Life Science, Inc.

Lanny and Tracy Barnes
Residence: Durango, Colorado
Sport: Biathlon
Sponsor: Eletewater.com

Clara Hughes
Residence: Glen Sutton, Quebec
Sport: Long track speed skating
Sponsor: COLD-FX

Joannie Rochette
Residence: Montreal
Sport: Figure skating
Sponsor: COLD-FX

Chandra Crawford
Residence: Canmore, Alberta
Sport: Cross country skiing
Sponsor: COLD-FX

Paul Rosen
Residence: Toronto
Sport: Sledge hockey goaltender
Sponsor: COLD-FX

Ivan Radcliffe
Residence: Park City, Utah
Sport: 2-man bobsled
Sponsor: USANA