Middle River's Long chosen for Coca-Cola's Olympic ad campaign

Seven-time Paralympics gold medalist will appear on soft drink displays across the country

May 17, 2011|By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

Jessica Long can imagine her response the first time she sees her face on a national soft drink display in the supermarket.

"I'm pretty sure I'll scream and say, 'This is me!' " said Long, 19, the seven-time Paralympics swimming gold medalist from Middle River. "To see myself on a can of Coke will be exciting."

One of eight U.S. athletes chosen by Coca-Cola for a high-profile ad campaign to highlight the 2012 London Olympics, Long spent Tuesday at a pool in a fitness center in Concord, Mass., splashing and smiling for photographers.

One of them asked her to sip a soft drink underwater, which made Long giggle.

"The only times I've swallowed water in the pool was when I was doing the butterfly, and choking," she said.

Her pictures from that 12-hour shoot will help launch the company's merchandise, in grocery, convenience and big-box stores, one month before the start of the Summer Games next July.

Long, who has competed in two Paralympics — the Olympic Games for disabled athletes — won four golds at the 2008 Games in Beijing. Born with physical anomalies, she had both lower legs amputated before she turned two. Her swimming success earned her the 2007 James E. Sullivan Award as America's top amateur athlete and has made Long a role model for youngsters world-wide.

Her selection from among 600 aspirants as a spokesperson for the 2012 Games was a no-brainer, company officials said.

"Jessica is extremely inspiring, very articulate and passionate about her sport," said Dina Gerson, director of Olympic marketing for Coca-Cola North America. "She speaks (of her disabilities) in a positive voice, and not 'woe is me.'

"She's a pretty young lady with a great image, a great story. We wanted someone relatable to teens and to moms. Yes, this is a big deal to Jessica, but it's a bigger deal to us."

Long is the second paralympian to partner with Coke's Olympic campaign. The first was Ralph Green, a one-legged skier, in 2006.

Long, who now resides at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Col., was to fly to Baltimore Wednesday to visit family and prepare a speech she'll give at The Johns Hopkins Hospital later this month.

"I'll talk to doctors there about my prosthetics," she said.

Then it's back to Colorado and the training grind for next year's Games, where her goal is the same one that eluded her in 2008 — to win seven golds.

"I don't give up easily," she said. "This is my life, my dream."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

An earlier version of this article gave the wrong number of gold medals for Long at the 2008 Beijing Games. The Sun regrets the error.

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