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In Salt Lake City last Wednesday, lawyers Jeff Benz and Gary Johansen were among the crowd of 15,000 spectators to witness Apolo Anton Ohno race around the rink at 35 miles an hour during the men’s short track speed skating preliminaries at the Olympic Winter Games. But while the rest of the crowd roared with excitement, Benz and Johansen spent the night shouting into their cell phones. As attorneys representing the United States Olympic Committee, General Counsel Benz, Associate General Counsel Johansen and their three colleagues are constantly on call during the games, even when they should be ringing their cowbells. “We make sure our phones are always charged,” laughs Johansen, who has been with the USOC since March 1999. The pressing matter that Wednesday night was the controversy over the Feb. 11 pairs freestyle skating contest, in which the judges narrowly awarded first-place to Russian skaters Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze instead of audience favorites Canadians Jamie Sal� and David Pelletier. By the time of the men’s short track speed skating competition, French judgeMarie-Reine Le Gougne admitted she had been pressured to vote for the Russian pair and Canada demanded an investigation. That night, a Canadian representative phoned Benz — a one-time championship figure skater himself — to ask whether there was any precedent for awarding two gold medals. So, from their seats at the Salt Lake Ice Center, Benz and Johansen had to work the phones to do some quick research on sports history. For the legal team, consisting of Benz, Johansen and staff attorneys Jennifer Gabrius, Kelly Maynard and Dan Perini, “Skategate” was one of countless emergencies to arise during the Olympics. And, while the figure skating controversy garnered huge attention, the vast majority of their work involves matters never heard of by the public. Much of their caseload involves trademark disputes arising when companies promote their merchandise by trying to tie in their products with the Olympics. The federal Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act says only authorized sponsors may promote their products by using the word “Olympic” or the five-ring logo. In just the first week of the games, Maynard estimates she personally handled between 50 and 75 cases where non-sponsors tried to affiliate themselves with the Olympics. “We try to resolve these informally,” she says, often simply by reaching out to offenders and educating them about the law. When a violation is serious, she sends out a “cease and desist” letter, asking the marketer to stop using the Olympic trademark. In extreme cases, the USOC seeks an injunction against the seller; the most recent request for a restraining order was heard approximately one week before opening ceremonies, according to Benz. At times, the disputes aren’t between competing marketers, but between the athletes and sponsors. Even though teams depend on marketers’ financial support to pay for everything from uniforms to coaches to plane fare, their interests can diverge. The most recent example came when U.S. bobsledder Pavle Jovanovic tested positive for a steroid byproduct and blamed a nutritional supplement. One company that manufactures supplements, Pharmanex, is an official Olympic sponsor. Dietary supplement manufacturer Advocare also specifically sponsors the U.S. bobsled federation. However, despite the sponsorships, the International Olympic Committee warns athletes that nutritional supplements can cause positive drug tests. (An IOC study in 2000 found up to 20 percent of 600 supplements studied might have ingredients that can lead to positive drug tests.) Although the USOC does not prosecute drug cases, Benz and Johansen sat in as observers during Jovanovic’s Feb. 6 arbitration before an ad hoc division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Salt Lake City. After an 11-hour hearing, the court upheld Jovanovic’s nine-month suspension, rendering him ineligible to compete in Salt Lake City. “Now I’m seeing this from the other side,” says Benz, who used to represent athletes in arbitrations when he practiced at the San Francisco office of Coudert Brothers before going to the USOC in July 2001. Just two years ago, he represented versatile superstar Chris Witty — a speed skater and cyclist — when another athlete challenged her spot on the U.S. Olympic cycling team. This year, he watched Witty set a new world record and take the gold in the women’s 1,000-meter speedskating race. So far, adds Johansen, there has been little legal drama in Salt Lake City compared to what happened during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. There, Johansen was part of the legal team that successfully represented kayaker Angel Perez in a citizenship dispute when Cuba challenged his eligibility to compete for the United States. Perez defected from Cuba in 1993, but did not become a citizen until 1999 — two years short of the time needed to compete without Cuba’s permission. Johansen and the other lawyers convinced the Court of Arbitration for Sport that Perez was “stateless” between the time he left Cuba and when he became a U.S. citizen, meaning he could compete without Cuba’s permission. Other conflicts to arise fall into the category, literally, of fashion emergencies. Johansen, the only member of the current legal group who was on staff during the Sydney Olympics, remembers getting an emergency phone call at dinner there one night when U.S. athletes didn’t wear the sponsors’ clothes on the podium. “Mostly what we want to do is educate the athlete,” says Johansen. “We try to resolve things amicably.” Since many major marketers are in Salt Lake City, the Olympics also present an opportunity to drum up new business. “The high-level personnel are in town, so it’s a good time to negotiate,” says Dan Perini, who drove from the USOC’s Colorado Springs, Colo., headquarters to Salt Lake City in an SUV filled with “big fat binders” of contracts. “We can finally see people face to face.” Between the trademark disputes, meetings with sponsors and dealing with athletes, the lawyers don’t have much time to get to the events themselves — and when they do, it’s with cell phones held to their ears. Still, they’re not complaining. “It’s a blast. It’s a lot more fun than private practice,” says Benz. “I have my dream job.” Wendy Davis is a free-lance writer in New York.

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