Few ad campaigns have been as ubiquitous—or as long-lasting—as got milk?. More than 25 years ago, what started as a series of ads featuring that iconic milk mustache became a pop culture fixture.
But no brand wants to rest on its laurels. In the 2021 got milk? campaign, with athletes and Olympic hopefuls at the center, the milk mustaches have given way to crisp white outfits that allow the athletes to showcase what makes their sports unique.
And for the newly announced Team Milk athletes, unique is an understatement; all four—Maurio McCoy (skateboarding), Cat Osterman (softball), Ariel Torres (karate) and Hannah Roberts (BMX freestyle)—are attempting to qualify or have qualified to participate in sports that are either new or returning to the Olympic program.
“This year, we are bringing together four exemplary athletes to be part of Team Milk—Cat, Ariel, Hannah and Maurio—who are all setting out to debut new or returning sporting events at the Olympics,” said Yin Rani, CEO, MilkPEP. “Our athletes drink milk to get the nutrients they need in order to perform at their best and we’re thrilled to support them as they embark on this exciting journey.”
The Team Milk athletes span a range of experience. Osterman, 38, is a two-time Olympic medalist (gold at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008), but her sport, softball, is just returning to the program for Tokyo 2020 after a 12-year hiatus.
The circumstances out of Osterman’s control—multiple Olympic cycles without softball and then Covid-19 interrupting her training once softball was confirmed for the Tokyo Games—could have forced her to retire, as so many other athletes have had to do.
But she credits the support of Team Milk, as well as her internal drive to compel the younger generation not to give up on softball, with keeping her momentum heading into the rescheduled 2021 Games.
“I want younger athletes to know the dedication I have as an athlete. I mean, I still play at 38 years old, which takes dedication!” Osterman said. “I am dedicated physically and mentally and have a passion for what I do—I want other athletes to also have a passion for what they do and the sport they pursue.”
Osterman points to the longstanding got milk? campaigns allowing students and future athletes to find an athlete to identify with, which she thinks is crucial.
Once upon a time, those athletes may have trended more toward NBA or NFL stars with multi-year, multi-million-dollar salaries. Now, however, young softball players, skateboarders, karatekas and freestyle BMX riders can find an athlete who does what they dream of doing at a high level in the got milk? campaign.
“Team Milk gives us the opportunity to spread that passion and dedication and reach different sports and athletes of all ages,” Osterman said. “They push their athletes to promote healthy living and maintain a healthy lifestyle and that is something that has always been important to me and something I want to show young girls in softball.”
Roberts, 19, has never competed in an Olympics. Her sport, BMX freestyle, is debuting in Tokyo this summer, even as BMX racing has been part of the Olympic program since the 2008 Beijing Games. The top-ranked women’s park rider in the U.S. similarly wants to encourage young girls to pursue BMX freestyle.
“Having a sponsor like milk is everything,” Roberts said. “They’re super helpful and they love their athletes and that’s incredible to see. It also gives younger women something to look forward to—‘I could one day possibly ride for Team Milk.’ That’s something we haven’t seen a lot of in BMX.”
Indeed, unlike another action sport debuting at the Tokyo Games—skateboarding—which has made marked strides in the last 10 years toward equal prize purses for all genders and major sponsors signing female skaters, women’s BMX is still attempting to reach that level of equity. Not all contests guarantee equal prize money, and some major contests, like X Games, still don’t offer women’s BMX disciplines.
But a stage as large as the Olympics can compress years’ worth of progression in a given sport into a miniscule timetable.
When skateboarding was approved as an Olympic sport in 2016, countries engaged in rapid infrastructure building, training young Olympic hopefuls—some only 10 or 11—in their attempt to qualify for the games as major sponsors began signing the next generation of pro skaters.
McCoy, 25, turned pro on the eve of the pandemic—and after that, his life was “slowing down and speeding up at the same time,” he said.
“The ultimate goal was turning pro and once I got there, I wanted a new list of goals,” McCoy said. “Essentially, it came down to wanting to have as long of a career as I could in the sport. I want to leave my mark on skateboarding in a positive way—be an inspiration to younger athletes and help pave the way. It’s another reason why I am so thankful to be a part of Team Milk; they are helping me do that!”
Torres, 24, has been practicing kata since he was six years old, but he never could have dreamed he would one day introduce it to the world through the Olympics.
The Hialeah, Florida, native was 18 when he learned that karate would be added to the program for the Tokyo 2020 Games, and he immediately made it a priority.
“The Olympics is no doubt the biggest stage in my career and a huge advancement for my sport,” Torres said. “I sacrificed everything to be where I am today—time with friends and family and experiences.”
When he explains the physicality of Kata, Torres says, “Think about it this way: if you can punch through the wood, you can punch through air and you should have the same strength and formation as if you were punching wood. In order to do all of this, you have to have a strong body and therefore, strong bones.” Joining Team Milk was a no-brainer for him then, because it’s been part of his recovery since he began practicing karate as a child.
The ecosystems that support these four sports debuting on or returning to the Tokyo program are not as robust as some Olympic tentpole sports, and all four athletes emphasized what a game-changer sponsorship is to training.
When the pandemic first shut down competitive sport entirely and then caused lasting repercussions for qualifying events, McCoy, Osterman, Torres and Roberts were able to continue to focus on their training without worrying about looking for other jobs to support themselves.
And while each of these athletes has a competitor’s heart and wants to leave Tokyo with a medal, they also understand the larger role they play in serving as ambassadors of their sports on a global stage and inspiring the next generation.
“The hiatus was a detriment to our sport. I am so thankful it is back this year and that there are countries worldwide that want the sport played,” Osterman said. “I really want younger athletes to see that and know that—look at today, softball is back in the Olympics!”
With Los Angeles hosting the Olympics in 2028, Osterman said, it is her hope that softball is approved for the program there as well.
“Overall, being a part of Team Milk is huge for me and I am thrilled to be on the team the same year that skateboarding is getting introduced to the Olympics,” McCoy said. Skateboarding has also been confirmed for Paris 2024.
“I am definitely hoping to see more exposure in my sport now that it is part of the Olympics,” McCoy added. “I hope it excites the younger generations and inspires them to try it out.”