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February 6, 2010

Little-guy Olympic sponsors score Vancouver talent

NEW YORK -- The names Cary Silverman, Todd Greene and Gabe Herrick may not come up much during the Vancouver Olympics, but they're players nonetheless.

All are little-guy sponsors of U.S. athletes who hung in with training help and endorsement deals when many corporate giants pulled back during the economic meltdown.

"Yeah, it was a huge hit," said short-track speedskater Katherine Reutter. "As soon as the economy began going downhill, a lot of individual deals went down with it."

Enter Silverman, an ophthalmologist in East Hanover, N.J. He did her Lasik for free, travel and hotel expenses paid. At Bioenergy Life Science Inc., a company in Minneapolis with only 30 employees, Herrick provides her boxloads of a favorite energy powder.

Reutter's hometown police department in Champaign, Ill., has been a loyal backer, and comedy Central's Stephen Colbert is an official sponsor of U.S. Speedskating, replacing a Dutch bank that went bankrupt and left the sport $300,000 short. The Colbert Nation raised that and then some.

As the Winter Games approached, Reutter said, some of the big boys came to call. "Verizon and PowerBar have just jumped on the train within the last couple of months," Reutter says. "Now everybody wants a piece of the action."

But for many athletes, it's the long-term personal sponsors who have supported them through the long haul. Making his third trip to the Olympics, cross-country skier Torin Koos grew up in Leavenworth, Wash., on the eastern slopes of the Cascade mountains in the heart of pear-growing country. For six years, the only logo he has displayed on racing caps is that of USA Pears, a brand of the fruit grown in his home state and neighboring Oregon.

"I grew up running through pear orchards in the spring and summer, rollerskiing and skiing beside them in the fall and winter," Koos said. "I made a couple dollars in the summer working at my friend Scott's family fruitstand. It is part of my roots, of where I grew up. It is also a company I can believe in wholeheartedly. Instead of promoting something like Mountain Dew or Mickey D's, I'm promoting healthy living and nutrition."

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