U.S. star trio set to cash in on golden day at Games

By Ben Klayman

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Three U.S. Olympic winter athletes with Vancouver gold medals and star appeal to match can reap their rewards in hard cash from increased endorsements after the Games hullaballoo has ended.

However, while Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn and Shani Davis all struck gold on Wednesday, winning the men's snowboard, women's downhill and men's 1,000 meters speed skating race, respectively, their success cashing in will differ, analysts said.

"Yesterday's gold medal performances by all three elevates the entire U.S. Olympic team and especially those three to a different level," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago sports consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd.

"Two of the three were among the most marketable athletes at the Winter Olympics before they won yesterday and those are Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White," he added.

Forbes magazine recently ranked White -- known for his flaming red hair, nickname of "Flying Tomato" and "Animal" and 2006 gold medal -- as the top earning athlete from the Winter Games at $8 million last year.

'FLEETING ENDORSEMENT'

Vonn was No. 3 at $3 million, while Davis did not make the top 10, which cut off at $1 million.

All three stand to benefit on some level thanks to their victories, analysts said.

"Olympic athletes enjoy fleeting endorsement success on the world stage, but these three have endured from one Olympics to the next," said Rick Horrow, a sports lecturer at the Harvard Law School.

White is generally seen as the one who can ride his popularity furthest as he is more in the media spotlight year round thanks to his exploits as a skateboarder, analysts said.

He is likely to add to his lineup of sponsors that already includes such names as Target, Red Bull, AT&T, Sony, PepsiCo and Ubisoft.

"It's too early tell what any of their legacies will be -- not just beyond these Olympics, but as endorsers," said David Carter, executive director with the USC Sports Business Institute.

"White has certainly established himself as a stellar pitchman, one with great credibility, likability and flare. He has the best chance to continue to transcend his sport," he added. "Vonn and Davis will struggle more given the seasonality of their sports."

Vonn, who overcame a painful shin injury to claim her medal, could double how much she brings in with her endorsements, said Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University. She was recently featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine.

"Lindsey Vonn has unlimited potential, especially given the drama surrounding the injury and coming back," he said.

Her sponsors, including Procter & Gamble, Vail Resorts and Sega, certainly plan to tout their ties to Vonn.

"You've seen a lot of Lindsey already and you'll see a lot more after the Olympics," said Steve Battista, senior vice president of brand with Under Armor, which uses Vonn as the face of its women's brand.

Ganis said Davis has some upside given he is African American, from a major city in Chicago, has won gold medals at two straight Olympics and is incredibly articulate. The question is whether he wants such deals as he has a reputation for being prickly.

Other analysts see speed skating as too niche of a sport for Davis to break out much beyond where he is in earning power.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman)