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Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Want to bet on Olympians? Now you can

By Jim Caple

Pssst. Want to bet on Olympians? Now you can.

Well, sort of. Thanks to Charity Bets, you can put your money on a top athlete. You just won't win any money. But you'll win something better -- the knowledge that you're helping a good cause.

For example, go to the organization's website this week and you can place a bet on 2004 Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi's goal to finish in the top three of this weekend's U.S. marathon trials in Houston. You could place any amount (say $100) on "The Over" he accomplishes his goal and any amount (say $5) on "The Under'' that he doesn't. Under those circumstances, if he qualifies, he goes to the Olympics and you give his charity, the Meb Foundation, the $100. If he finishes fourth or lower, he stays home this summer and his charity gets only the $5 you wagered on that outcome.

As if there wasn't already enough pressure competing for one of just three spots on the Olympic team.

"They bet for you or against you, to contribute money to a great cause. It gives you motivation to push harder and harder," said Keflezighi, who started the Meb Foundation in November 2010 to promote education and fitness. "To represent your country is a great honor, but to not just represent your country but to also help other people out is even better."

Keflezighi is not the only elite athlete you can bet on. Charity Bets co-founder Dave Maloney says U.S. sprinter Walter Dix, who finished second to Usain Bolt in the 100 and 200 at the track and field world championships in Daegu, South Korea, this past summer, will participate, as well. So will Justin Gatlin, who won the gold medal in the 100 at the 2004 Olympics, and 2004 Olympian Khadevis Robinson, among other runners.

Robinson said he had a few qualms at first because it involved betting, but once he learned how it worked, he was all on board.

"For me, it is a win/win for everyone," he said. "The two things that it does that I believe in is that it will, A, bring more publicity and promote the sport of track and field, and, B, provide an opportunity to raise money and help charities and foundations."

Robinson said his charity will be the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

This is sort of like fantasy football or baseball, in that it provides a financial interest in how a particular athlete fares. The big difference, of course, is instead of winning $200 and bragging rights with your friends, you're helping someone's education or health. Which is a whole lot better than that silly trophy you get for winning your fantasy league.

People don't need to bet on someone else, though. You can set up your own athletic event -- a 10K, a marathon or a century ride -- and get friends to bet charitable amounts on your outcome. They can bet on you reaching your goal or bet against you.

If you decide to bet on Keflezighi this weekend, bear in mind he is coming off a personal best in the New York City Marathon in November and says he is feeling good.

"The marathon is 26.2 miles, so a lot of things can go wrong, but also right," he said. "I'm 36, I've made the trials twice, but you have to do it that day."