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Online sellers cash in on Olympic champions' names

By Wang Zhenghua  (China Daily)

10:02, August 08, 2012

When Sun Yang grabbed two gold medals in men's swimming in London, he excited not only the big brands that had signed him up but also an army of online entrepreneurs who are borrowing his sudden fame to make money.

Typing the swimmer's name into the search engine of Taobao, a major online shopping platform in China, hundreds of results pop up, hawking the swimmer's "favorite" snacks, furniture, shoes and even vintage designer bags.

"Sun Yang is one of the hottest names these days and he generated a lot of hits on the Web links of products that contain his name," said a Taobao shop owner who only gave her name as Bao. She claimed the sauced duck tongue and green bean cakes in her virtual store are "favorite snacks of Sun", who also won a silver and a bronze in London.

But the Hangzhou-based seller finally admitted that she made up the swimmer's food preferences.

"I have linked several products that sold well with his name since he won the first gold. It generated a lot of clicks, but the sales didn't pick up as quickly as I thought," she added.

Apart from Sun, Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, who also received two gold medals in London, is also popular among online shop owners.

Qi Longfei, who sells girl's jewelry on Taobao, claimed a necklace in his store was the same type as Ye's favorite.

Qi admitted he chose Ye because of her good looks.

Some shop owners said they added Olympic champions' names in product keywords to make it convenient for buyers.

"There is frenzy about the sport stars because of the Olympics. Many swimming fans asked us what kind of goggles and caps Sun and Ye use after the two won in the Games," said You Dongyang, who sells swimming products on Taobao. "They are the pride of China, and I will keep their names linked with the products even after the Olympics end."

But most of the customers kept a cool head about such tricks, and very few products linked with the champions generated hot sales.

"There could be some effects from celebrities but online buyers are becoming increasingly sophisticated," said Zhu Quanlong, a regular online buyer in Zhejiang province. Zhu said the connection with sports stars would not impel him to buy anything rashly.

One of the most popular products connected with Sun is an authorized T-shirt printed with his cartoon figure and autograph. At the shop that specializes in the 361 Degrees products on Tmall.com, the garment has sold 926 pieces in a month for 69 yuan ($11) apiece.

Sun and Ye, both Hangzhou natives, also generated a frenzy offline as more signed up this summer to learn how to swim in the Zhejiang provincial capital.

According to Hangzhou Daily, the number of residents signing up for swimming lessons rose 20 percent compared with last year.

The excellent performance of Chinese athletes in other Olympic venues also raised the popularity of training sessions of events including badminton and table tennis.

Yet some sports suffered as China lost events in London.

The number of residents signing up to learn tennis at Hangzhou-based Aibo Sports Training Center slumped by 50 percent year-on-year even though it reduced the training fee by 30 yuan per session.

That is closely related to the setback of China's athletes on tennis courts in London, Aibo's owner, Tang Gengguo, said on Monday.

Li Na, 2011 French Open champion, was knocked out in the first round of women's singles tennis matches. Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai lost in women's doubles on Thursday.

Chen Jing contributed to this story.

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