By Erik Matuszewski
Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- The competition in financial services will intensify tomorrow when a charity event aims to crown the best athlete on Wall Street.
The Decathlon pits 30 traders, bankers and advisers in a competition designed to test their athleticism and raise at least $250,000 for Lance Armstrong’sLivestrong Foundation. It has drawn side wagers, in the form of donations, from such firms as Bank of America Corp.,Morgan Stanley, UBS AG, Citigroup Inc., ING and Credit Suisse Group.
“That’s just the way trading floors work, you find things to bet on, or compete at against other guys,” said John Withrow, a 33-year-old bond trader at Macquarie Group Ltd., Australia’s biggest investment bank, who was a three-time All- American wrestler at the University of Pittsburgh. “I’m a little bit crazy competitive.”
While Withrow has dropped 20 pounds during training trying to regain the form that led him to wrestle for U.S. national teams in Russia, South Korea, Italy and Macedonia, he’s not sure what to expect from the 10-event competition.
This version of the decathlon features track staples such as sprints at three different distances along with basketball free-throw shooting, a football throw for distance and accuracy, pull-ups, an agility drill and bench press. Five events will be held at New York’s East River Park and five more at the Reebok Sports Club on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Wall Street’s Best
“We bill it as a chance to anoint Wall Street’s best athlete because we do test speed, endurance, power as well as other skills,” event founder Dave Maloney, 30, said in a telephone interview. “The big investment banks and hedge funds, all the major players are all represented.”
Maloney, a former financial adviser at Morgan Stanley, which reported its first profit in a year this week, who now sells computer systems, created the Decathlon to help raise money for a cause with which he has a personal connection. His mother is a breast cancer survivor, and his mentor at Morgan Stanley, Donald Wolfson, died of leukemia.
LiveStrong is the organization founded by Armstrong, who won a record seven Tour de France cycling races after recovering from cancer. It has raised more than $250 million to help people with cancer since its inception in 1997.
Using his Wall Street connections, Maloney began reaching out to financial firms for participants.
Among the competitors is Evan Odin, a 29-year-old credit trader at Citigroup, the lender that’s 34 percent owned by the U.S. government, who fought in Wall Street charity boxing events the past two years and won both of his matches.
“When you get older and you’re not able to do that every single day, anything that comes up, especially that tests your capabilities against other guys of the same mindset, is just an opportunity you just have to jump at,” said the 6-foot, 195- pound Odin, who played soccer at the University of Wisconsin.
Maloney is a Decathlon competitor as well as an organizer. He’s a former track athlete who ran the 800 meters and mile at Auburn University in Alabama.
As a former wrestler, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Withrow figures he doesn’t have much of a chance in the track events -- “I run like a herd of elephants” -- so he focused on an area of strength to earn pledges that might exceed $25,000.
Withrow said he’s confident he can win the dip competition, in which participants hold onto two bars at waist level with their arms extended and then lower their full body weight before pushing up again. He’s aiming to do 45.
Dips for Dough
“People have made it fun by making the craziest equation they could to see how many dips I could do,” Withrow said. “If I can win that competition, those last couple dips could be worth thousands of dollars because so many people have put in.”
The Decathlon offers a new philanthropic outlet for finance professionals outside the usual galas and golf outings. Peter Hofbauer, former chief operating officer at Trafelet Capital Management LP, is among those wagering on the outcome of events in the form of a donation.
“Rather than cutting a check for a lump sum, it raises the stakes both for the competitors and donors,” Hofbauer said. “It’s more entertaining for me as a donor because I know some of the participants and they’re competitive.”
And this weekend, that competition goes from trading floor to athletic fields.
“It’s been an opportunity to get in shape, help a great cause and get my competitive juices flowing,” Withrow said. “All of those things are good.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at firstname.lastname@example.orgLast Updated: October 23, 2009 10:22 EDT