Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Activewear makers for the most part are diving into this summer’s Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, with some caution.
Not wanting to see shelves of discounted Olympic merchandise — as many did after the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta — manufacturers said they were counting on their sponsored athletes to be the best advertising. A few have toned down in-store events, athlete appearances and Olympic displays, largely because the event is so far away.
As the official outfitter for the U.S. Olympic Committee, Adidas is the exception.
The company has developed three Olympic-inspired lines of apparel for consumers. This summer, replicas of American athletes’ award uniforms, a “Legends” line of T-shirts and basics imprinted with the insignias of former Olympiads, and “In Training” workout wear similar to what U.S. athletes will receive in the Olympic village will be available in stores and at Adidas’s e-commerce site, an Adidas spokeswoman said.
In July, a global campaign will break touting how Adidas will outfit athletes in 26 of the 28 Olympic sports, she said. There will also be an Olympic-oriented print campaign in the U.S. that focuses on training.
“We’re not toning down anything, but we take a different position than most,” the spokeswoman said. “We’ve been involved with the Olympics since the Twenties. That’s well-known globally, but not in the U.S. We want to increase awareness in the U.S.”
A few other companies are counting on water sports to make consumers pay attention to their brands.
O’Neil is banking on slow riding, a variation of surfing that will be a spectator sport in Sydney, to drum up some interest in its label. O’Neil will provide wetsuits for the event’s support crew, and O’Neil-sponsored surfers will demonstrate the sport.
The sport requires a 9-foot-high, 40-foot-wide rubber embankment shaped like a wave with four jet sprays at the base that shoot sheets of water at 40 mph to form the artificial wave. “We think it’s going to be one of the more hyped-up events in Sydney,” said Joey Santley, director of marketing for O’Neil. “It’s very dangerous and the loft of the wave reaches 10 feet.”
O’Neil is shipping to stores hundreds of posters and signs featuring images of Rochelle Ballard, Bill Bryan and other slow riders that endorse O’Neil products.
Slow riding is expected to catch on, now that Wave Loch, the La Jolla, Calif., company that patented the design for the wave form, is building wave parks in the U.S., Santley said. At the end of June, the company will open Wave House, a seven-acre site with stores, restaurants and a wave form, in San Diego’s Mission Beach section.
Speedo is also counting on a few other new attractions at the Olympics to build brand awareness. The company, a division of the Warnaco Group, is sponsoring the U.S. teams for triathlon and women’s water polo, two new Olympic sports, according to Stu Isaac, vice president of team sales and sports marketing.
“This time around, exposing our athletes will be our biggest effort,” he said. “They’re our biggest investment. We’ll let their personalities and performances stand on their own.”
Speedo will also outfit the U.S. swimming, diving and beach volleyball teams. Diving, which has doubled its events to eight and includes synchronized diving, another new sport, should be another major draw, Isaac said.
The company will provide U.S. swimmers with activewear for on-deck use, but swimmers — unlike most Olympic athletes — can select their own suit for competition. About 85 percent of the Olympic swimmers are expected to suit up in Speedo, including Speedo-sponsored Olympic hopefuls Jenny Thompson, Brooke Bennett, Lea Mauer, Dara Torres, Kristy Kowal and Amy Van Dyken, Isaac said.
Puma is opting for a more social route to get attention at the games. The company plans to hold a major bash for retailers in Australia.
“We want to have more awareness of the brand. We think the louder, the better,” a Puma spokeswoman said.
It also saves the company the hassle of trying to round up its sponsored athletes.
“Trying to get all the athletes’ schedules together can be a nightmare,” the spokeswoman said.
On the athletic front, Puma expects to get some major play from Serena Williams, last year’s U.S. Tennis Open winner, who is an Olympic hopeful.
In addition to outfitting women on the U.S. soccer, rowing, softball and track and field teams, Nike will outfit the Australian Olympic team and committee.
A major TV advertising campaign is scheduled to air in September, but Nike is considering introducing it earlier, a spokeswoman said.
Nike will develop a limited amount of Olympic merchandise, such as replica shirts for the women’s soccer team and activewear imprinted with the U.S. track and field logo, a Nike spokeswoman said. The latter will be offered strictly at Niketown stores.
“Obviously, for a company like Nike, what we’re about is creating the best athletic products to show what an athlete can do,” the spokeswoman said. “We’ll make some items specifically for [Olympic] athletes, but that average person doesn’t need the same track spike that Marion Jones might be using.”