LONDON – Don't be surprised if female viewership of the Olympics spikes Thursday night.
Why? Because Ryan Lochte will be the main attraction. He's swimming a demanding double – the 200-meter backstroke and the 200 individual medley – and could win a pair of gold medals.
With Lochte earning that much airtime, admiring eyeballs will follow. To some he's a stud swimmer; he's won nine Olympic medals already. But to others, he's simply a stud.
A female colleague of mine described him as, "A truckload of eye candy." A female friend texted during the Olympic Trials in June, jokingly seeking his phone number. Twitter overflows with Lochte love (or lust) every time he swims.
[ Photos: Ryan Lochte making waves in London pool ]
Madison Avenue has noticed. Lochte is not hurting for endorsements, including heavy-rotation TV commercials during the Olympics for AT&T and Gillette. They both feature plenty of close-ups of Lochte, plus footage of him in his swim suit. As an added bonus for jersey chasers, Lochte does his work while wearing a lot less clothing than most star athletes.
"That doesn't hurt," noted People Magazine staff writer Kristen Mascia.
Vogue put Lochte on its cover, arm-in-arm with fellow Olympians Hope Solo and Serena Williams, earlier this summer. That was a solid seller. People did a Lochte story on July 20, complete with a picture of him in an old-school brief suit, and Mascia said it played to rave reviews in reader comments on People.com.
"Lots of exclamation points, lots of gushing," she said.
"Ryan Lochte is the flavor of the minute with the Olympics," she said, noting that his underdog storyline is similar to Tebow's. Whereas Tebow had to battle doubts about his ability to play quarterback in the National Football League, Lochte has had to live in the shadow of all-time great Michael Phelps.
[ Photos: Underwater Olympic photography ]
"Lochte fits that paradigm," Mascia said. "He was always second fiddle to Michael Phelps, but he's standing out now. It helps to have the good looks, but if you're an amazing athlete that's an added bonus."
Kathleen Schmidt, CEO of KMSPR, a New York-based public-relations firm, said Lochte brings an enticing combination of qualities to Main Street USA.
"He's cool enough for kids and hot enough for their moms," Schmidt said. "He's old enough [28 on Friday] so we don't feel creepy about ogling him. Any brands that lock in with him will have an advantage because of his sex appeal, but also his non-punk status."
Lochte isn't a punk. But he's also got a goofy streak. He has an extensive collection of crazy sneakers -- at the Trials in Omaha he wore white hightops that had stars-and-stripes wings on them. He stuck an expensive grill designed by a rapper into his mouth after the medal ceremony for winning the 400 IM Saturday night. He's been known to space out during interviews. And his description of President Barack Obama's tweet to Phelps upon becoming the most-decorated Olympian of all-time was this: "pretty tight."
He's a little bit Spicoli in a Speedo.
Despite all that Lochte brings to the table, he might not even be the most marketable American swimmer not named Phelps. That could be 17-year-old sensation Missy Franklin, who is the picture of wholesomeness to offset the Lochte sexiness.
Franklin's constant smile and penchant for saying something gracious amplifies her swimming prowess. She's won two gold medals and a bronze, with more medals almost certain. A Denver native, Franklin probably took some tips from watching Tebow during his time with the NFL Broncos.
[ Photos: Teen swimming sensation Missy Franklin ]
"She is the girl with the biggest smile on her face," said American teammate Jessica Hardy. "That's genuinely who she is. It is awesome she is getting the recognition she deserves more than anyone I know."
The only thing holding back Franklin's ability to cash in on these Olympics is her stated goal to go be a collegiate swimmer. Under NCAA rules, that means she has to retain her amateur status and cannot accept endorsement money.
Heading into her senior year at Regis High School in Denver, Franklin said she "wants more than anything" to swim in college, but has acknowledged that she'll have to consider turning pro after her star has ascended this summer. The amount of money she could leave on the table figures to now be in seven figures.
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