Spotting An 'American Idol' Moment At The Olympics

Jul 23, 2012

Olympic reporting veterans like myself (London is Games No. 8) noticed something extraordinary this weekend at the first London 2012 news conference called by International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

The "something" sat there on the podium, directly in front of Rogge: an aquamarine bottle of Powerade, a Coca-Cola product. And next to Rogge, in front of IOC spokesman Mark Adams, was a carefully positioned bottle of caramel-colored Coke. Dozens of photographers and TV cameras were capturing the event; it seemed impossible to miss the OIympic sponsor's products.

Now, Coke has paid a gazillion dollars to be an Olympic sponsor — so the soft-drink giant could be forgiven for a bit of cheap product placement. But there is a firm line at the Olympics, between advertising and sports. At least, there used to be.

Logos, billboards, placards and any other signs of commercialism are forbidden inside the arenas and stadiums where athletes compete. That's confined to the snack bars and gift shops out in the concourses.

The Main Press Center is also an official Olympic venue, and bottles of water (provided by Olympic sponsors) are common and practical at news conferences.

But Coke and Powerade? Reporters who've covered even more Olympics than me said they'd never seen that before.

It was a moment straight out of American Idol — the talent show whose judges are never shown without a sponsor's drink prominently placed in front of them.

So, is this a sign of change at the Olympics? Will we begin seeing Pampers Diapers wrapped around the Olympic rings, as wrestlers grapple beneath them? Will gymnasts vault off the beams and snap sharply at the finish — with TV cameras getting shots of bottles of Coke behind them?

"I don't read anything into it," Adams says. "One of the staff presumably put those drinks on the top table."

Neither Adams nor Rogge seemed thirsty. The bottles remained unopened. So, does Rogge even drink Powerade? And what about Coke for Adams?

"I prefer water during a press conference, myself," Adams says. He ignored a question about Rogge's preferred news conference refresher.

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