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GOLD RUSH IS ON FOR CBS, OLYMPICS STARRING NAMCY, TONYA, AND LITTLE OKSANA

By Published on .

Figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding aren't the only ones with a lot on the line in the Winter Olympics.

As the Games began in Lillehammer, Norway-scene of the first biennial Winter Olympics-Ms. Kerrigan held a news conference and Ms. Harding fought to hold her place on the team.

CBS and its 83 advertisers held their breath, hoping heightened viewer interest, courtesy of the Jan. 6 attack on Ms. Kerrigan staged by members of Ms. Harding's entourage, will lead to ratings gold.

In reality, the odds-on favorite to win the figure skating gold medal is neither Ms. Kerrigan nor Ms. Harding, but Oksana Baiul, a 15-year-old orphan from Ukraine with a story so compelling that Walt Disney Co. wants the movie rights and Nike is already chasing her for an endorsement deal.

"The spotlight will shine so bright on Nancy, it will spill over onto the other figure skaters," said Michael Rosenberg, president of Marco Entertainment, Desert Springs, Calif., the company that handles Ms. Baiul. "And if Oksana should win-watch out."

Mr. Rosenberg would neither confirm nor deny the offers; Nike and Disney didn't return calls.

Many advertisers are still negotiating for a position in the Games. Obviously, all would like their spots to air during the women's figure skating competition, which begins Feb. 23 and runs through the last four days of the Games. But the feeling among advertisers is that this year, any place in the broadcast will be a good one. More than 90% of CBS' advertisers signed on well before Ms. Kerrigan and Ms. Harding became household names.

The heightened interest has turned the Games into a high-profile TV event and an ideal vehicle to hit consumers with new campaigns. Among them:

Frito-Lay, in its first Winter Olympics media buy, will launch Rold Gold Fat Free Thin pretzels in new spots from DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, featuring "Seinfeld" star Jason Alexander.

Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America, which bought into the Games in the past month, will promote its 1994 Galant midsize sedan in spots from Grey Advertising's Fountain Valley, Calif.-based G2 unit.

In addition, Chrysler Corp., Coca-Cola Co., IBM Corp., NutraSweet Co., Reebok International and Xerox Corp. will break new creative.

While some advertisers are looking to capitalize on the notoriety of the Tonya/Nancy rivalry, others are concerned they may appear to exploit the sorry episode.

Reebok planned a campaign with Ms. Kerrigan well in advance of the attack. Though the company originally scheduled the campaign debut for the Olympics, in hindsight, some executives now wish they had shot and broken the spot earlier.

Others have no guilt.

Revlon moved quickly to get Ms. Kerrigan, described by one executive close to the company as "a specific talent with a distinct celebrity status at the moment." Sports marketing executives say she has agreed to several endorsement contracts that will net her $11 million this year. Her agent refused comment.

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