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NEW YORK — Having sponsored more than 250 athletes during its 75 years, Speedo has seen its share of Olympic moments.
This story first appeared in the July 18, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Today, 75 athletes represent the brand globally, including 50 in the U.S. The company has stretched beyond its swimming roots, adding diving, water polo, beach volleyball, triathlon, synchronized swimming, wakeboarding and water skiing to its sports portfolio.
During the 2000 Olympics, 30 of the 33 Olympic gold medals in swimming were won by athletes competing in Speedo Fastskin. But Donna De Varona, a two-time gold medalist at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, was the brand’s first golden girl. Speedo picked her up as soon as she retired from active competition and together they furthered the sport of swimming by hosting clinics for children.
For many people, the colorful poster of Mark Spitz wearing a star-spangled Speedo and his seven gold medals is an indelible image of the brand. But Spitz never had an endorsement deal with the company.
From Rowdy Gaines’ embarrassing recollection of being naked on the pool deck at the Olympic trials to Janet Evans’ memory of wearing Speedo at her first swim meet at the age of five, the brand means different things to different athletes.
Donna de Varona
Hardware: Two gold medals at 1964 Tokyo Games.
Signed Up: In 1965, she became the first athlete to ink an endorsement deal with Speedo. The year before, she advised the company about fine-tuning the cut and colors of its nylon racing suits. Once she had a contract, she appeared in ads and then offered to give speeches and clinics. Speedo agreed and sent her around the U.S. and then on to tour Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
“I didn’t want to be a mannequin,” she said. “I wanted to promote something healthy — more in tune with who I was.”
Résumé: Broke 18 world records and captured 37 national titles in her swimming career. In 1965, ABC made her the first female sports broadcaster at a major network. De Varona was an ardent proponent for the passage of Title IX of the Equal Education Amendment Act of 1972. She cofounded the Women’s Sports Foundation and served as a consultant to the U.S. Senate during the preparation of the Amateur Sports Act, which aimed to give women and minorities greater access to training facilities and money.
Brand Analysis: “The brand means quality, athletic, cutting edge,” she said. “But there was a time in the Seventies, when I was frustrated that the company wasn’t aggressive about getting out of the competitive market into a broader area. Once the triathlon became an Olympic event, women became more active and athletes started cross-training. That helped them to move over. I also wanted to see swimsuits in every airport and hotel because we all travel.”
Speedo Snapshot: At the national swimming championships in Los Altos, Calif. in 1964, de Varona walked to the starting block and dropped her towel to reveal a leopard print bathing suit. “There were Tarzan yells on the deck,” she recalled. “I would have felt embarrassed if I didn’t win my event. It was a pretty show-biz-y thing to do at that time. In swimming, that just wasn’t done.”
Hardware: Three gold medals.
Signed Up: Teamed up with Speedo after striking gold three times in 1984 at the age of 25. Almost 20 years later, he’s still one of the brand’s key spokesmen.
Résumé: Had broken 11 world records and was favored to win four Olympic gold Medals in 1980, but the U.S. boycott put his career on ice. He stopped swimming and went to work in his father’s gas station, but returned to the sport. Gaines came back in 1984 to win gold; overcame Guillan-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder, in the early Nineties, and now handles alumni relations for USA Swimming, the sport’s governing body. He also gives the lowdown on swimming for NBC’s Olympic coverage and sometimes jumps in for ESPN.
Brand Analysis: “Speedo is sort of a dream company for USA Swimming,” Gaines said. “Speedo really cares about the sport and they’re not just doing it to throw their name around. They do it because they really care.”
Speedo Snapshot: Stretching out on the deck before a race at the 1984 Olympic trials in Indianapolis, Gaines had dropped his sweats. But he forgot he’d taken off his “paper” Speedo.
“It was a great suit, but very tight,” he recollected. “I had to take it off between events. There I was standing on the deck swinging my arms as naked as a jaybird. I quickly put my suit on and ended up making the Olympic team an hour later.”
Hardware: Two gold medals, a silver and a bronze at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
Signed Up: Started working with Speedo in 1992.
Résumé: Once her days in the pool were over, Sanders turned to broadcast journalism for the “NBA Inside Stuff,” various Nickelodeon shows, “Today” and NBC Sports.
Brand Analysis: “When anyone talks about a fast, competitive swimsuit, they say a Speedo,” Sanders said. “They are what competitive swimming is all about. The majority of world records have been broken by women and men wearing Speedos. Speedo is always asking, ‘How can we make them even faster?’ That keeps all the other companies improving.”
Speedo Snapshot: “At the 1988 Olympic trials, I had a Lycra suit I’d worn to several meets. I hadn’t caught on to the idea of wearing a new suit for a big meet. I tried on the paper suit, but it was very revealing with a high cut and low back. So I wore my Lycra suit and missed making the Olympic team by 27 one-hundredths of a second. That broadened my view of suits. After that, it was never, ‘How do I look?’”
Hardware: Four gold medals and one silver at 1994 Games.
Signed Up: Teamed up with Speedo after the Olympics. Still makes appearances for the company and does the occasional photo shoot.
Résumé: The former diver teaches about diversity awareness; teaches dogs agility and obedience, and acts in theater. This week, he started coaching dogs on the set of “Guarding Eddy,” a new feature film. He wrote an autobiography, “Breaking the Surface,” and revealed he is HIV positive. “The most important influence Speedo has had on me is their standing by me,” Louganis said. “When I told Linda Wachner about my book before it was published, she said her commitment to me was for life. Speedo has continued that support.”
Brand Analysis: “They keep up with what’s happening with competitive swimwear and what’s going on with athletes needs,” Louganis said.
Speedo Snapshot: “When I was competing, there was one athlete who had his favorite Speedo, but it had lost its drawstring,” he remembered. “He would always lose his suit down to his ankles. They would never show him on live TV.”
Hardware: Four gold medals, one silver medal.
Signed Up: As a 19-year-old college sophomore, she gave up her eligibility to endorse the brand, but started wearing its suits at the age of five. Still on the company’s roster, Evans hosts swim clinics and makes cameos for the brand.
Résumé: The first American woman to win four individual Olympic gold medals in swimming. Competed at the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics. Evans helped Muhammad Ali carry the Olympic flame at the opening ceremonies at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
Brand Analysis: “As an athlete, knowing you’re standing on a starting block at the Olympics or Nationals wearing the best scientifically advanced technical suit there is, helps your confidence,” she said. “In competition, all swimsuits are about having the best swimsuits.”
Speedo Snapshot: She enjoys hanging out with Louganis, Karch Kiraly, Pablo Morales, Lindsay Benko and Misty Hyman. “Mostly, I love the friends I’ve made through Speedo,” she said. “We’re like a little fraternity.”
Hardware: Four gold medals, one silver.
Signed Up: Naber started a seven-year run with the brand after graduating from the University of Southern California as a psychology major in 1977. “Conducting swim clinics around the country and showing up at trade shows was a great living for a guy who had never made a penny in his life, but it wasn’t enough to retire on,” he said.
Résumé: Raised in Europe, Naber spent his childhood playing cricket and soccer. He started swimming competitively in high school and wore his first Speedo at the 1972 Olympic trials, thanks to the company’s policy of doling out freebies to qualifiers. He racked up five medals at the 1976 Olympics. “My original exposure to the brand caused a sense of gratitude,” he recalled. “When they gave me a couple of suits in ’72, it was like someone saying, ‘We believe you’re going to be a great swimmer.’ I’ve always felt loyal to them for their faith in me.”
Brand Analysis: “As long as I swam, Speedo was always synonymous with a swimmer’s racing suit,” he said. “It was like Kleenex. We used to say, ‘You’re not finished with your career until you hang up your Speedo.’”
Speedo Snapshot: He cut up his old nylon suits for patches for his jeans. “I loved the feel of nylon. How many guys get to wear nylon?”
Those nylon suits also soaked in the sun, when Naber swam in the summer. “You would tan through the white panels or light-colored patterns,” he said. “If you wore the same suit for the whole summer, you’d wind up with a palm tree pattern on your rear end. So we would wear two or three suits at the same time, not just for resistance, but to protect us from the sun.”
Hardware: Three gold medals at the 2000 Games.
Signed Up: Like Naber, Krayzelburg joined the Speedo team after graduating from USC in 1998. “From the day I started working with them, the support for swimmers has been tremendous, from the president of the company to the people who deal with us every day,” he said.
Résumé: Speedo’s most popular athlete is training for the 2002 Games. He helped develop and test-wear Fastskin, the brand’s full-length swimsuit. Raised in Odessa, Ukraine, Krayzelburg wore his first Speedo as a seven-year-old. “My Dad wanted me to be involved in sports for health reasons, really,” he said.
Brand Analysis: “I’ve seen the company grow in front of my eyes and expand into athletic wear and design,” he said. “The whole outlook has changed.”
Speedo Snapshot: Twice a year, Krayzelburg gets together in Phoenix with fellow Speedo endorsees Jenny Thompson, Amanda Beard and Michael Phelps and others for a “laid-back” catalog shoot. Speedo senior staffers Susan Guensch, Craig Brommers and Stu Isaac “come out to hang out.” “They don’t have to be there,” he said. “But they want to support us and make sure everything goes fine.”
Hardware: Eight gold medals, one silver and one bronze.
Signed Up: Joined the Speedo team after her NCAA eligibility ended. At 22, she was excited to be joining the ranks of swimming greats like Janet Evans and Summer Sanders.
Résumé: With 10 medals, she is the most decorated female athlete in U.S. history. After graduating from Stanford University, Thompson enrolled in medical school at Columbia University in 2001. Now she’s making a bid for the Olympic team.
Brand Analysis: Speedo has treated me as part of the family. They have always been there for me and I am very proud to say that I have represented Speedo for the eight years I have been a professional swimmer.
“Kids are a lot more savvy with their gear these days. They wear a lot of color and fancy patterns. My suits were usually plain with a stripe here or there.”
Speedo Snapshot: Impressed with the company’s technological advancements over the years, Thompson recalled paper suits, the S2000, the Aquablade, the leg suits and the Fastskin. But her recollections go further back. “I have fond memories of my first swim team and the Speedo that we wore as our team suit. That cool suit was the sole reason that I wanted to join the swim team.”