Phelps' swimcap mishap underlines Games sponsorship war

Wed Aug 10, 2016 4:54pm EDT
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By Liana B. Baker

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - For one split second, Michael Phelps' dream of a 21st gold medal turned into a nightmare for his swimwear maker, Aqua Sphere.

Phelps' self-branded "MP" cap split in half as he pulled it over his head in front of a global TV audience at the Rio Games on Tuesday night, just as he prepared to swim the anchor leg of the 4x200 meter freestyle relay.

After a moment of panic, Phelps turned to teammate Conor Dwyer who came to the rescue with his own cap - though Dwyer, who is sponsored by Speedo, saved the swimming super star's blushes by inverting the cap to hide the rival logo.

"Certainly not a moment you dream about," said Todd Mitchell, business line manager of Aqua Sphere, a division of Aqua Lung that is part of French group Air Liquide SA.

"There's a reality that the caps are made out of silicone. Those things do happen," Mitchell said at the Rio Games.

Phelps left Speedo after the 2012 London Games and has been using a swim kit designed for him by Aqua Sphere, a virtual unknown in swim racing, which made its Olympic debut this week.

His agreement with Aqua Sphere for the "MP" line runs through 2020 and includes equity-type elements, which may include royalties or a cut of sales.

For Phelps and Aqua Sphere, the stakes are high as they pursue a piece of the global market for competitive and fitness swimwear, estimated to be worth $1 billion in annual sales.   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics - Swimming - Men's 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay - Olympics Aquatics Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 09/08/2016. Michael Phelps (USA) of USA swims with an inverted Speedo cap borrowed from teammate Conor Dwyer after his own "MP" cap ripped. Picture taken August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Michael Dalder