Fierce Five ready to turn Olympic gold into green
By NANCY ARMOUR,
Updated August 8, 2012
LONDON (AP) Now it's time to turn those golds into some green.
With gymnastics competition over, the Fierce Five got an idea of what life is going to be like now.
The U.S. women's gymnastics team got a sneak peek at their Corn Flakes box Wednesday - coming soon to a grocery store near you! - and Procter & Gamble Co. created an ad to congratulate them.
They're starting to hear about all the offers rolling in - hundreds for Gabby Douglas alone - and are finally beginning to realize just how big a deal they've become back home.
"It's definitely going to be different," Jordyn Wieber said. "At the same time, it's the coolest thing in the world. To be 17 years old and be able to experience all this? A lot of girls would kill to be in our spots."
The U.S. women leave London with five medals, fewest at an Olympics since 2000. But their three golds - team, all-around and floor exercise - are their most ever at an Olympics, and they got the ones that really matter: their first team title since the U.S. team known as the Magnificent Seven in 1996, and a third straight all-around champion.
The medals will make these teenagers very wealthy young women, and will leave a mark on the sport long after they've hung up their leotards.
"These girls have no idea. They're little rock stars. And they're going to be rock stars," said Sheryl Shade, Douglas' agent.
The Mag Seven - Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller and their teammates - certainly turned their team title from the Atlanta Olympics into a lot of cold, hard cash. But that was a different era, before social media and the demand for instantaneous news. Before the Internet, really.
Now everything the Fierce Five does is noted, critiqued and pinged around the world in seconds. Douglas has nearly 600,000 followers on Twitter, and has gotten shoutouts from everyone from Oscar winner Octavia Spencer to Ashton Kutcher. Aly Raisman, who won two medals on the final day of competition, including the first U.S. gold on floor exercise, has jumped from 8,000 followers about six weeks ago to 350,000.
As attractive as that is to traditional sponsors, it may be even moreso to companies that target young girls and are looking for an entree into the athletic world, said David Schwab, managing director of Octagon First Call.
"Previously, the only market for them was Disney actresses or musicians. They've opened the door to an athlete marketing space for a young girl," said Schwab, who specializes in matching brands with celebrities.
And while their time in the spotlight is over at the Olympics, it's still burning brightly and waiting for them back in the United States. They're spending a few days next week in New York - pick a talk show, and odds are they'll be on it - and set off Sept. 8 on a 40-city gymnastics tour.
From now until Thanksgiving, they'll be front and center with fans from coast to coast.
"That will keep the conversation going and that's the goal," Schwab said.
Adding to the team's appeal is their versatility. Companies can build campaigns around the whole team or a single athlete, be it Douglas, Raisman or Wieber.
Kyla Ross, at 15 the youngest of the Fierce Five, is the only one who hasn't yet turned professional.
Douglas, of course, has the greatest potential for stardom.
Adults want to hug her, and little girls shriek with delight at the sight of her. Her smile alone is enough to dazzle Madison Avenue, and her personality gives new meaning to the word "outsized." She's got an adorable nickname - "Flying Squirrel" - and an even sweeter story: She moved halfway across the country at 14 to pursue an Olympic dream.
She's also the first African-American to win the all-around title or, for that matter, any of the individual events. That's bound to have an impact in a sport where elite minority gymnasts have been rare - though not so much anymore.
"There's not a lot of African-Americans in this sport, so I'm glad to bring it up," Douglas said. "I want them to think, `If Gabby can do it, I can do it, too.'"
While the Fierce Five leaves London with a fistful of medals, the U.S. men have little to take home but bruised egos.
For two years, they boasted how they had closed the gap on China and Japan, and had a real shot at winning their first team title since Bart Conner and the Golden Gang in 1984. "One team, one dream" was their motto.
One medal is what they got. And not the one they wanted.
After finishing qualifying in first place, the American men crumbled to fifth in the final, out of it before the competition was even halfway over. Leyva's bronze in the all-around turned out to be their only appearance on the podium.
It was their worst showing since 2000.
"I wouldn't say that this Olympics was much of a disappointment. We really only had one day where we didn't do what we wanted to do, and that was the team finals," Leyva said. "Yeah, it (stinks) not to get medals. We set high expectations for ourselves and that's what we need to fuel us for next time."
At some point, however, the Americans are going to have to do more than talk. Otherwise, they will always be stuck in the women's shadow, one that is now even larger thanks to all the bling.
"Mistakes were made, but it's only going to make us stronger over the next four years," captain Jonathan Horton said. "The great thing about having such a young team is that everybody is going to be back."
The same can't be said for the women, even though Raisman is the only one old enough to vote. She and Douglas are already talking about Rio, where the Summer Olympics will be held in 2016, but their opportunities outside the sport could change any plans. To say nothing of biology.
"It's a little girls' sport," U.S. coach John Geddert said. "Once they become women, it's very, very tough to handle the training load it takes to be at this level."