Apolo Anton Ohno likely will be getting plenty of attention when the Winter Olympics begin in February.
The Moses Lake-based Washington State Potato Commission is hoping to share a little bit of the spotlight with the Washington native and five-time Olympic medalist.
“It’s a natural link,” said Karen Bonaudi, the commission’s assistant executive director. “He’s a home-state person, and we have a home-state crop.”
Ohno, an 11-time U.S. national champion short track speed skater, will head to the Vancouver Games tied with long track speed skater Eric Heiden for the most Olympic medals won by a U.S. male in the Winter Olympics.
“He’s a great role model for Washington kids to look up to,” Bonaudi said.
Bonaudi said Ohno approached the commission earlier this year after its promotional plans already were in place. Still, it was an opportunity too good to resist.
“We’re seeing what opportunities might be there,” Bonaudi said.
“This came along after our budget and plans for the year were made. We’re trying to integrate it into plans we already had.”
Bonaudi said the commission can use the skater’s image under terms of a one-year agreement. Ohno will help spread the word about the nutritional value of potatoes.
“Potatoes are healthy, full of nutrition and energy,” Bonaudi said.
“That’s what attracted him to us. That’s what he believes. He uses a lot of potatoes in his own cooking.”
Ohno has some appeal beyond sports fans. The 27-year-old won “Dancing with the Stars” with partner Julianne Hough in 2007.
Washington isn’t the only state potato commission working with an Olympic athlete. Gold-medal cyclist Kristin Armstrong conducted more than two dozen interviews on behalf of the Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle, in September.
The Boise resident, who won gold at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, retired from cycling in September after winning the women’s time trial at the road cycling world championships in Switzerland.
“We’re looking for ways to do things with her now,” said Frank Muir, chief executive officer of the Idaho Potato Commission. “We’re watching to see what she does next.”