A while back I explained exactly how our everyday Olympian (and others just like him) make a living. I wrote about it here. It is slightly less glorified than Michael Jordan's multi-million dollar NBA contract paired with a multi-gazillion dollar shoe deal. In fact, it is a combination of working your butt off on the road traveling to clinics, appearances, and speaking engagements and working your butt of in the pool in order to swim fast and place in the top two in the country to secure your USOC/USA Swimming stipend. Some have suit contracts and other endorsements, too. Mark was once sponsored by TYR (2004-2006) and then was sponsored by Speedo (2007-2008). Suit contracts are usually comprised of base salary (sometimes based off of world rankings--so, again, you gotta be speedy) and performance-based bonuses. At the end of the day, you've got to be fast (and consistently fast) to bring home the cash money.
As most of you know or have heard me blab my big mouth about, the tech-suits threw a wrench into the world of suit contracts. In 2008 Speedo had the fastest suit, so besides a few top tier folks (i.e. Michael Phelps and company), Speedo didn't need guys like our everyday Olympian to sell a suit. They had the market cornered. Thus ended (or just not renewed) Mark's Speedo contract. Then in 2009, a handful of super suits hit the market. In a mad dash and frantic game of musical suits, athletes were ignoring (now maybe we're realizing this was a mistake) the pursuit of a suit contract so that they could have the flexibility to wear the hottest, fastest, suit of the moment. Next, in 2010, the super suits were locked away and athletes were back on the, "Hello my name is _________, and I'd like a suit contract" journey.
Last summer Mark swam great (like SUPER great). He proved, again (it has been 12 years since Mark made his first national team) that he was a force to be reckoned with. But, still not a bite on his, "Hello my name is Mark..." pitch. So it is time to get serious. Mark and his secretary (ME!) are going beyond a mere introduction. We are saying "THIS IS WHY I'D BE GOOD FOR YOUR COMPANY..."
Why the renewed sense of urgency with the suit stuff? Mark attended a national team training camp a couple of weeks ago. The USA Swimming sports psychologist spoke to the team about feeling prepared. He said that it wasn't enough to feel prepared in the water, but that you must be totally prepared outside of the water, too. This includes having the right equipment and feeling confident that you have the means to accomplish your goals (in PhD world we call this "means efficacy"). So, Mark decided that we had had enough close calls with the suits. Remember, in 2009 we were rushing around right up until Mark's race to find him the right suit (Thank you to Nathan Jendrick, Megan's husband, for saving the day!). Then last summer, I was involved in a complicated situation in which our friend, Laure, and I were trying to successfully get a suit shipped from Japan, to France, and then to California in less than a week. If you don't remember the story click here. Well, beyond a pay check, having a suit contract means that your suits, the right suits, are shipped to you before your races. You don't have to worry about the right suit, or the shipping, or how stretched out your old suit is in case you have to wear it again. A brand new suit is just there... like magic. This is now our motivation to lock in a suit contract (though a paycheck would be nice, too). Financially we're hanging in there without a contract, but for Mark (and his confidence), a suit contract would ease the anxiety, nerves, and concern leading up to each race.
At the end of the day it is the swimmer in the suit that swims the race... but, a feeling confident in the suit you wear and the company that stands behind you is key.