Eli Lilly’s Olympic run ends with enduring stories of Team USA athletes’ sport and health quests

Olympic torch image
Eli Lilly Olympic sponsorship of seven Team USA athletes included mini films on each one's sport and health journey.(Getty Images)

Eli Lilly’s Olympic sponsorship ended last week with millions of media impressions, bolstered corporate pride and even a gold medal for one of its athletes. Volleyball player April Ross, one of Lilly’s Team USA seven sponsored athletes, won gold in women’s beach volleyball.

Her win, followed closely by Lilly employees around the world, was just one of the athlete highlights spurring pharma appreciation inside the company.

“There is a big sense of pride that comes from directly supporting Team USA as athletes represent the Country at the Olympic and Paralympic games and it has been beautiful to see it spread across Team Lilly,” Lilly’s Chief Media Officer Lina Polimeni said, in an email.

Along with watching and cheering the athletes during the Games, Lilly employees got a chance to get even closer when the sponsored athletes participated in Lilly’s annual "Week of Well-being" to share stories of inspiration and support. Track Olympic medal winner Chaunte Lowe, for instance, spoke to them about her family, being a mom and her breast cancer diagnosis in the midst of her Olympic pursuit.

RELATED: Eli Lilly opens Olympic Games with first corporate ad—and a reality check on the state of the U.S. health system

Lilly employees though weren’t the only ones who got an inside look at the Team USA athletes. Lilly worked with NBCU to create a series of mini-documentaries called “The Journey Forward.” Each video goes behind the scenes with one of Lilly’s athletes to talk about their life stories, sports challenges—and health journeys. Much like the Olympic athlete profiles that run during the Games, the Lilly series purposefully modeled NBC's "heartfelt and authentic storytelling" to celebrate athletes’ struggles and achievements on the way to reach the highest levels of their sports.

Medal winner Ross talks about the COVID-19 pandemic and how she set up a “training” camp at her home, relating her mother’s courage and selflessness in the face of metastatic breast cancer as a model for facing her own challenges. Ross’ mother died while she was a sophomore in college.

“Sometimes, when something crazy happens on the court or I feel like I got really lucky, I feel like that’s her on my side. Obviously I wanted more time and more memories,” Ross says, adding “You never know how much time you have on this earth so you might as well be in the present moment and make the most of it.”

Her video ends with “The Journey Forward, brought to you by Verzenio,” followed by a commercial for the MBC drug.

RELATED: Lilly warms up for Olympics with Team USA athletes in ads for Trulicity, Emgality and Verzenio

Another profile features Team USA swimmer Kathleen Baker talking about her love of the sport—“I always say if I could live at a swim meet I would, it’s my favorite place in the world.” But she also talks about the importance of her mother as she grew up in swimming. She and her mother talk about her mom’s migraine struggle and how she pushed for a diagnosis and to help Baker. After the video, a commercial for Emgality runs featuring Baker and two other Team Lilly swimmers.

Lilly’s first Olympic sponsorship was challenged by pandemic conditions, including the postponed Games in 2020 and working with the athletes in less-than-ideal remote situations, adding an unexpected mental health component to the work.

Polimeni said, “On top of the mental stressors involved with rigorous training, competition (and) time apart from loved ones, Team Lilly athletes also had to manage the uncertainty of the postponement of the Tokyo Games and being isolated from their team members.”

RELATED: Lilly backs athletes going for gold in Tokyo with sponsorship of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams

“The extraordinary circumstances of the past year and the global pandemic helped to reinforce our messaging about the importance of prioritizing health and supported the overall intent of the ‘Health Above All’ campaign,” she added.

Lilly’s corporate “Health Above All” campaign, created by Nike ad agency Wieden & Kennedy, ran in conjunction with its athlete-focused product ads during the Olympics, but the unbranded big picture ads will continue through the year. As the pharma's first corporate campaign, the work imposes a reality check on American healthcare and calls for a more equitable system.