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Decades from now, Don Green and Michael Budman may conclude that their long and colourful careers reached a pinnacle when they watched an entire Olympic team march into the opening ceremonies, the name of their Toronto company printed in large letters on the uniforms' right breast. On the left side, smaller and attracting only secondary attention, was the team name: USA.

It was a fitting message. Their apparel company, Roots, has taken over an Olympic role once held by Americans: They are everywhere you look, everyone wants a piece of them and a few purists are finding them a little too overbearing.

Corporate sponsorship has become a pillar of the Olympic Games in recent years, but Mr. Budman and Mr. Green have managed to weave their company deeper than anyone else into the fabric of the Olympics, doing for amateur competition what Nike did years ago for professional sports.

This year, they both gleefully acknowledge, marks a certain saturation point.

"There's a new country out there, and it's called Roots," Mr. Green joked yesterday, in reference to the opening ceremonies. "It was really a touching moment for Michael and I -- it was a major moment to have our name involved in such an important event."

What is taking place in Utah this month could be described as a Roots sale with a few sporting events thrown in. The U.S., British and Canadian teams all entered the Games decked in stylish Roots uniforms, which have become popular with athletes because they are neither utilitarian (like the slippery orange-and-white costumes worn by the Germans) nor dorky (like the Americans' cowboy hats in 1998).

In Park City, where the most important Olympic skiing competitions are held, the lines to get into mogul and jumping events were long yesterday, but nowhere near as long as that in front of the Roots store on Main Street.

In subfreezing weather, the queue stretched more than a block, and one of the store's staffers said the scene inside devolved more than once into "a complete riot, with people on the ground."

Families seemed prepared to brave hypothermia in order to obtain a blue Roots beret like those worn by the U.S. team, or a sweatshirt bearing an old-fashioned maple leaf like those of the Canadians.

Similar mob scenes were repeated in the two Salt Lake City outlets, and two Toronto stores reported long lines outside their stores on the weekend.

This sort of Olympic mob scene isn't new to the Roots founders, who started their company in 1973 as a comfort-sandal vendor. Their place in amateur sport had a humble beginning in 1988, when they provided jackets for the infamous Jamaican bobsled team, which had arrived at the Calgary Olympics without team colours.

Ten years later, at the Nagano Winter Games, Roots discovered the promotional power of the Olympics when the red "poor-boy" caps worn by the Canadian team became a worldwide craze.

It didn't hurt that the hats bore the company's name so prominently. Soon after Nagano, other teams began asking how to get on board the Canadians' trend-setting clothing line.

"It's the athletes who are driving this. They really want to wear our clothes; they're proud to wear them," Mr. Budman said. After Olympic uniforms reached a peak of tackiness in the 1980s and '90s, the Toronto-designed costumes seemed refreshingly subdued.

Still, some observers are raising eyebrows at the ubiquity of the Roots name.

One scholar speculated that Friday's opening ceremonies would be the last time the International Olympic Committee allows a corporate logo to appear so prominently.

"This is probably something that's slipped through the cracks with the IOC," said Robert Barney, an Olympic historian at the University of Western Ontario and co-author of a forthcoming history of commercialism in the Games. "They don't like any advertising slipping into the venues where the games are going on, including the opening ceremonies."

On the other hand, Mr. Barney and other observers said, the corporate dominance of the Games has become more subdued this year since reaching a pinnacle of hucksterism at Atlanta in 1996.

"If you were in Atlanta, that was the purest example of crass commercialism. With Sydney and Salt Lake City, I don't see the overpowering public face of commercialism that we've seen before," he said.

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