January 26, 2006

Sponsors hard to find for world shot champion

By Gene Cherry

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Shot putters may be
some of the biggest guys in athletics but they are just small
change in the eyes of sponsors, world champion Adam Nelson

Just look at the list of Nelson's current sponsors.

"No sponsor yet," the world's top-ranked shot putter told a
teleconference promoting Saturday's Boston Indoor Games.

The muscular Nelson, small by shot-put standards at five
foot 11 inches and 254 pounds (115 kg), faced a similar
situation last year before advertising himself on the Internet
and landing a one-month sponsorship that put food on the table
during his world championship run-up.

While Olympic and world sprint champions latched on to
million-dollar shoe contracts, shot putters often scrambled to
make ends meet, Nelson said.

"I'm in one of those events whether or not you are the
world champion it doesn't really matter so much because it is a
minor event within the sport, at least it is considered a minor
event by the sponsors," Nelson said via telephone from his
Athens, Georgia, home.

Even European organizers were unwilling to pay top rates
for shot putters, Nelson said.

"There's a really disturbing trend going on right now in
Europe," he said. "They are cutting a lot of prize money and
appearance fees in some of the minor or lesser events."

The net result was that traveling to Europe was a losing
proposition financially, Nelson said.

"I just decided two years ago if they don't cover the
travel and pay me my fair market value, I'm not going," he

Thus, there are no European meetings on Nelson's 2006
schedule with the exception of March's world indoor
championships in Moscow and possibly September's International
Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Cup in
Athens, Greece.

"I would really like to see the European meets step up and
offer some big money for some of the throwing events and some
of the field events outside the women's pole vault," he said.


With Russian Olympic and world champion Yelena Isinbayeva
setting world records by the dozen, the women's pole vault has
become a major attention-grabber at European meetings indoors
and out.

"I suppose we need to start breaking world records more
often," Nelson said.

Doing so, though, is no easy task. American Randy Barnes's
indoor and outdoor shot put world records are a decade older
than major competitions in the women's pole vault, which became
an Olympic event in 2000.

"The indoor record is a lot more realistic," said Nelson,
who will be looking to better his indoor personal best of 21.66
meters in Saturday's Boston meeting. "Under a controlled
environment, you can get a pretty good shot at that indoor
record if you are in the right shape."

Nelson hopes to take that shot.

"I think I am in shape to come into this season to break
the world record indoors," he said.

For the outdoor record, "so many things have to be
perfectly aligned, I think that is pretty much the high end of
what just anybody can throw," Nelson said.

"I do think it is possible to throw 77 or 78 feet but,
again, so many things have to line up perfectly," he added.

A perennial runner-up at major championships, Nelson found
everything lined up perfectly on a cold, rainy night in
Helsinki last August.

After four successive silver medals, in the 2000 and 2004
Olympics and the 2001 and 2003 world championships, the
30-year-old Nelson struck gold when an opening throw of 21.73
meters held up for the 2005 world title.

He bawled like a baby, he said, when the competition ended.


He had thought about quitting the sport a few months
earlier. His wife, however, encouraged him to continue and
Nelson began to look for innovative ways to support himself.

Shoe companies were not offering contracts to his liking,
so Nelson turned to the Internet.

His pitch was that his competition T-shirt would be a
moving advertisement for sponsors in three televised U.S.
meetings, Nelson said on Internet auction site eBay.

A medical technology company that manufactures 'Rex the
Talking Prescription Bottle' bought in to the idea, paying
Nelson $12,000 for one month.

The agreement left both with a lot to talk about. Nelson
won his first gold medal and $60,000 in IAAF prize money. The
company, MedivoxRX Technologies, received international
publicity after Nelson earned the world title.

"They are a small company and they were looking for the
right timing for something and I just happened to come along at
the right time," said Nelson, adding that while no deal was on
the table for this year the company remained supportive in
other ways.

Whether he will hit the Internet again in search of a
sponsor will not be decided for several months.

He and his wife, a schoolteacher, have already made a
commitment for Adam to continue throwing through the 2008
Beijing Olympics.

"One way or the other," Nelson said. "Whether she is
dragging me or I'm kicking and screaming to get there."