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OLYMPICS INC. | CNNSI.com COVERAGE | SCHEDULES | MEDAL PICKS
Sport for love, not money
graphic February 11, 2002: 10:55 a.m. ET

Amateur athletes can still be found on U.S. Olympic team - and at Home Depot.
By Staff Writer Chris Isidore
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNNmoney) - U.S Olympic team member Kari Erickson doesn't work a job while taking time to train in her sport. She works two.

The Bemidji, Minn., resident, a member of the women's curling team, is what all Olympians used to be, but few, especially on the U.S. team, are today - amateur athletes who compete without any realistic hope that their sport will bring them riches or even cover expenses.

This is the second Winter Olympics at which curling will be a medal sport, although the U.S. team won a bronze medal when it was a demonstration sport. The sport, little-known in the United States, involves a player pushing granite stones along the ice towards a bulls-eye like target, while teammates sometimes sweep the ice in front of it to help control its speed and direction.

Played in North America for about 250 years, it is popular in Canada, although even that country's best curlers have trouble supporting themselves. U.S. players can count on spending tens of thousands of dollars in travel expenses, and the best they can hope for financially is to find jobs with understanding bosses.

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Kari Erickson
Erickson is a swim teacher at the local school in Bemidji and works at the local Target department store. She also trains for her sport about a couple hours a day from fall to spring, and continues to work on conditioning year-round. She said there's always a little envy of fellow Olympians pulling in riches, but she also thinks those athletes pay a price she's glad she doesn't have to pay.

"They're on the road a lot more than I am," said Erickson, who is married with a three-year old son. "That's their full-time job. If I had to train steady and be six months a year away from home, I don't think I'd be doing it. It's tough enough with my three-year old wondering why Mommy has to go away for another long weekend."

The tournaments that Erickson competes in take her and her team away for about five days at a time. The team is coached by her father, who also works for the Bemidji school district as a tutor. Kari's younger sister, Stacey Liapis, who lives in Chicago, is also on it.

Liapis tells the story, repeated by a number of members of the curling team, of how her team would win a tournament, allowing it to compete in a future tournament, but her boss wouldn't allow for the additional time off. All of them tell of quitting those jobs, rather than the tournaments.

"I probably quit three jobs that way," says Liapis, an alternate on the 1998 Olympic curling team.

But Liapis, and a couple of members of the men's curling team, are now as close as a  U.S. curler can get to professionals - they have jobs at U.S. Olympic team sponsor Home Depot under which they work 20 hours a week, get paid for a full 40 hours, plus benefits, and get a flexible work schedule they need to train and compete.

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Stacey Liapis with her father, and coach, Michael.
The Olympic Job Opportunity Program, which is run by the U.S.O.C. includes athletes from a number of other sports, even some sports with greater potential for riches for the winning athletes. Home Depot employs 140 of the athletes under the program, 16 of whom made the Winter Olympics team, and 50 of whom made the Summer Olympics in 2000.

"It's a huge difference. It's one less stress in my life," said Liapis. "My boss is real understanding, although she jokes that she believes curling is an imaginary sport that I made up so I could get in the program."

Her sister couldn't participate in the program because until recently the nearest Home Depot was two-and-half hours from Bemidji. Even now with the town getting its own Home Depot store, she's not sure she wants to leave her job with the school or Target, where she's worked since college.

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Both sisters hope that someday the sport can support professionals - Liapis says she's sure it will happen. And one curler, teammate Don Barcome Jr., is breaking ground by appearing in an Office Depot commercial now airing, in which he gets to explain the sport to a character in the commercial who asks "What is that?" when seeing it on television.

Barcome received $2,000 for the spot - a touch below what other athletes get for commercial performances - but his teammates are pleased with the attention.

"As long as they're not poking fun at it, any kind of coverage is good," said Erickson. graphic





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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.
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