NEW YORK The 2012 London Olympics are still more than seven months away but Michael Phelps is already one of the biggest winners.
The American swimmer, who has already won a record 14 Olympic gold medals and is expected to add to his glittering stockpile in London, has just signed a lucrative endorsement deal with the International Olympic Committee's newest worldwide partner, Procter & Gamble.
Under the terms of the deal, which was due to be formally announced later on Tuesday, Phelps will become the global face of an anti-dandruff shampoo and will feature prominently in their Wash in Confidence campaign.
"Michael Phelps is a three-time Olympian and one of the most iconic global athletes of our time," Belen Carazo, the director of global communications for Head & Shoulders told Reuters ahead of the announcement.
"We feel that Michael Phelps is a great ambassador for confidence -- when performing at the highest level of sport, there is simply no room for doubt."
P&G said the contract with Phelps would run for two years, until 2013. The company would not reveal the financial terms of the deal although industry experts said the swimmer's fee would almost certainly be a seven-figure sum.
"At this point of his career, it's not about financial remuneration for Michael," Peter Carlisle, Phelps' agent at sports marketing firm Octagon, told Reuters.
"His promotion of a product has to go much deeper and allow him to accomplish more things.
"Michael has always wanted to help grow the sport of swimming and he needs global brands that can help him spread his message all over the world."
Carlisle, who has worked with Phelps for around a decade, has been flooded by endorsement offers for his client but said less than 10 per cent ever get signed because of the complexity of striking a deal with the most decorated Olympian of all time and his ambition to spread his message worldwide.
"He's one of the few truly global ionic athletes, but only a few brands can really match him. That's why this was such a compelling match for both sides," Carlisle said.
As much as anything else, the deal with P&G also serves as testimony to Phelps's rising popularity and pulling power after his record-breaking eight gold medal haul at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
His public image took a battering when the now defunct British tabloid News of the World published photographs of him inhaling from a glass pipe used for smoking marijuana, but he has survived unscathed.
Phelps apologised and was suspended by USA Swimming for three months, but his sponsors stuck with him despite ongoing speculation they would ditch him en masse. Only Kellogg's, whose deal with Phelps was about to expire shortly after the pictures were published, did not renew their contract with him.
Phelps, now 26, weathered the storm and is steadily adding more companies to his bulging portfolio in the final countdown to London, his fourth and final Olympics before he hangs up his goggles.
"Who would have thought, five years ago, that a swimmer would sign a deal for a hair product," Phelps told Reuters in an interview.
"But this was a good match and it's a product I have actually used for years because I'm in chlorine so much.
"My sponsors are like family. Some have been with me from step one. They have always supported me through the good times and bad times."
(Editing by Ossian Shine)