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Colbert to raise money for skaters

11/3/2009

NEW YORK -- Of the many countries participating at the
Vancouver Olympics, add Colbert Nation to the list.

On Monday's "The Colbert Report," Stephen Colbert announced
his show has become the primary sponsor of the U.S. Speedskating
team. The team's largest annual cash sponsor, DSB Bank NV, left the
team in the lurch after it declared bankruptcy in October.

The name "Colbert Nation" -- the catchall for the legion of
ardent fans of the satirical Comedy Central program -- will be
emblazoned on the team's uniforms.

"On their enormous, billboard thighs, it will say, 'Colbert
Nation,"' Colbert said in an interview before Monday evening's
taping. "Be looking for that logo as it comes around the final
turn. It will be easy to see because it will be in first place."

Speedskating has produced some of the most iconic figures in
U.S. Olympic history, from Eric Heiden to Dan Jansen and Bonnie
Blair. In all, Americans have claimed 75 medals -- 32 of them gold --
on the traditional long track oval and the wild-and-wooly short
track rink. In Vancouver, Shani Davis, Chad Hedrick and short track
star Apolo Anton Ohno will all be vying for medals.

"I personally love Comedy Central + The Colbert Report," Ohno
said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Any attention the
sport can get is going to be beneficial. I'd like to see how
creative they can get! I'm game to do a skit about it :-)"

The show isn't paying the team any money directly. Instead,
Colbert is calling on his fans to donate to the team via
www.colbertnation.com and www.usspeedskating.org. In the past,
Colbert has had a great deal of success raising money this way. He
has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Yellow Ribbon
Fund, a charity that assists injured service members and their
families.

The Dutch bank DSB was to pay $300,000 for the sponsorship but
failed to make any payments. That put U.S. Speedskating in a
difficult position with little time to court new sponsors before
the games begin in February.

U.S. Speedskating executive director Robert Crowley, who
appeared on Monday's show along with Jansen, acknowledged it was a
"definitely unconventional arrangement," but said it would
generate exposure for the sport.

"We're highly optimistic that the country is going to get
behind this and get behind the Colbert Nation and support this
amazing team," Crowley said. "I don't have any idea if it's going
to make $5 or $500,000. I couldn't tell you."

Colbert, who often leads his audience in chants of "U-S-A!,"
said he had been considering taking "The Report" to Vancouver for
the Olympics, much as he took the show to Iraq earlier this year to
perform for American troops.

"My character sees the Olympics as war, but nobody gets hurt,"
Colbert said. "It's a way to peacefully figure out who has got the
top country."

Colbert, who plays a kind of mock conservative talk-show host on
"The Report," also has a penchant for seeing his name adopted for
various causes around the world. Things that have taken his name
include a NASA treadmill used in the international space station
(COLBERT), a bald eagle (Stephen Jr.), a Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream
flavor (Americone Dream) and a junior hockey league team (mascot
Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle).

An American Olympic team is clearly a step up, and Colbert can
be expected to feature the team frequently on his show in the
coming months.

"It still tragically involves a lot of Canadians," the
comedian said. "It's kind of unseemly how many Canadians I'm going
to have to be dealing with."