Coca-Cola has been an Olympic sponsor since 1928.

Think about it. That's 88 years of continuous support, making Coke the longest-running sponsor of the Olympic Games.

“Coke has somewhat been funding all athletes since 1928,” said Thierry Borra, director of Olympic Games management, Coca-Cola. “Multiply that by the number of athletes since 1928, that's quite a big number. For me, it's an incredible commitment.”

In Coke's first Olympic Games in 1928, the company brought the United States Olympic team and 1,000 cases of Coca-Cola, over to Amsterdam on a freighter. While the sponsorship has expanded throughout the years, one thing remains the same: Coca-Cola plays a major role in supporting Olympic athletes during and after their quest for medals.

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Tumua Anae Tavana (left) and Alyssa Anderson both interned with Coca-Cola through the IOC Career Athlete Program.

Marc Andrew Stephens

“Without that support, there would be no Games and no dreams for athletes like me,” said Tumua Anae Tavana, a 2012 gold medalist on the U.S. Water Polo team. She interned with Coke through the International Olympic Committee (IOC)'s Athlete Career Program and recently joined the Utah Jazz.

This sponsorship reaches athletes all around the world, as 90 percent of funds given to the IOC goes directly to staging of the Games and to the participating National Olympic Committees of each country to support athlete training and development.

Miek van Geenhuizen is currently an intern with Coca-Cola in the Netherlands. The 2008 Olympic gold medalist on the Dutch Field Hockey team, a 2004 silver medalist, and a 2006 world champion experienced first-hand the support of corporate sponsors like Coke.

“You have the possibility of training instead of worrying about your income,” van Geenhuizen said. “For years I was busy playing field hockey five to six days a week, getting in shape, and after that, getting in really good shape. You need to be totally devoted and committed, otherwise you cannot perform on the level needed to be a serious candidate for an Olympic medal.”

Coca-Cola will again feature athletes in its global Olympic advertising when the 2016 Games kick off later this week in Rio. The #ThatsGold campaign includes two TV commercials featuring archival footage from past Olympic Games interspersed with images of some the world’s top athletes – including USA swimming champion Nathan Adrian, Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke and rising British athlete Jodie Williams – enjoying "gold" moments both on and off the podium. The campaign also includes a series of print/outdoor ads showcasing more than 20 Olympians from around the world in authentic, everyday scenarios.

Thats Gold Rio 2016

U.S. swimmer Nathan Adrian

In the U.S., Coca-Cola will bring #ThatsGold to life with the help of five Team USA athletes and hopefuls and an Olympic legend who have won more than 20 Olympic medals combined: Alex Morgan (soccer), Ashton Eaton (track and field), Tatyana McFadden (Paralympic track and field), Nathan Adrian (swimming), Leo Manzano (track and field) and Nastia Liukin (gymnastics legend). 

Coke sponsors Olympic athletes and teams at the country level, too. Take France's Teddy Riner, for example, who's widely considered the top judoka in the world. The No. 1 men's heavyweight won an Olympic gold medal in 2012 and a bronze in 2008, in addition to eight World Championships and five Euro Championships.

POWERADE Wall of Champions

On a more grassroots level, POWERADE has jumped in as a partner to the crowdsourcing platform, Sponsorise.me. This is another avenue for athletes looking for additional funding for sports equipment, nutritionists, travel expenses, and coaching fees. During the pilot program, this platform was rolled out to six markets.

“There is a real need to leverage this new approach for athletes to reach out to their fanbase to support them,” Borra said. “Of nearly 100 athletes who used this program, three-quarters were funded, and at least 35 will compete in Rio.”

Leading up to the 2012 London Olympic Games, Coke joined the IOC's Athlete Career Program by awarding marketing internships to help Olympians transition to a career after sports. Mechelle Lewis Freeman, a 2008 U.S. track & field Olympian who retired early because of an injury, was Coke's first intern through the program.

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Mechelle Lewis Freeman was Coke's first IOC Career Athlete Program intern.

“I had work experience [prior to training for the Olympics], so, you wouldn't think it was hard to transition. But when I really knew [my athletic career] was over, I had to figure it out,” said Freeman, who competed in the 100 meters and 4x100 meter relay, was a 2007 World Champion and a 2007 Pan American double silver medalist. “I saw the job in Global Sports Marketing—you don't usually see jobs like this—it was for Coke, was in marketing and I majored in marketing, and it focused on the Olympics. It was perfect. It allowed me to be part of the Olympic movement again, just in a different capacity.”

Freeman is now Founder & CEO of TrackGirlz, a platform to promote and educate women and girls in the track and field culture.

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Alyssa Anderson, a gold medal-winning swimmer, interned at Coke in 2014. 'It was a life-altering opportunity,' she said. 'It was the first time out of my comfort zone.'

Jeff Roffman

Coke's internship is a true training program for the athlete, just on another field of play. According to Alyssa Anderson— who won gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay in the 2012 Olympic Games and was an intern leading into the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi—working a desk job requires a different type of energy.

“It was a life-altering opportunity,” said Anderson, now a consultant for Stryker Spine. “It was the first time out of my comfort zone. I could've been a coach, but this showed me I could do something outside of my sport. I was a new Alyssa on a new adventure, in a new field, in a new place, with new people around me. Absolutely all my firsts were at Coke. My first job—I had never worked before, my first lunch meeting, my first deliverable. I learned from gifted and talented people who cared about me in a safe environment.”

For Coke, these athletes provide insights as to what works, and helps keep the brand relevant. And this insight continues beyond the internship program, as Coke has employs several Olympians in the United States, France and North Africa.