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The Olympic Games roll around every two years—once every four years for the Summer Olympics and once every four years for the Winter Olympics. And here in the U.S., as in most countries around the world, the Olympics are a big deal. No matter the sport or season, millions of viewers worldwide have their eyes glued to their television sets to see the greatest athletes across the globe competing for the top spots in their respective fields.
But, have you ever wondered how much Olympic-caliber athletes make? Many people assume that all Olympians get paid a lot of money. After all, we tend to associate professional athletes with high paychecks and lavish lifestyles. The truth about what Olympians get paid per year is a bit complicated, and depends a lot upon the popularity of the sport and the fame of the athlete.
Truthfully, the vast majority of U.S. Olympians don’t make any money in training for or competing in the Olympics, which makes their dedication and year-long training schedules even more noteworthy. The U.S. Olympic Committee, a private, non-governmental entity, does provide some funds and stipends, but not to all athletes. The majority of its money, which is sourced from private donations, corporate sponsorships, and the International Olympic Committee, goes to provide training centers and Olympic support staff. Organizations for U.S. athletes can petition for funds, such as the $1.2 million that was given to the U.S. Rowing Association for their 2012 Olympic team. These funds allowed the association to pay small stipends of up to $800 a month to their top athletes. However, such stipends are the exception and not the rule. Most Olympians work full- or part-time jobs while also training year-round. Or, they rely on spouses or other family members to help them pay for living expenses while training.
Some U.S. sports organizations privately raise money to fund their Olympians, and give prize money according to the type of medal won. Even membership fees in some associations eventually go to pay Olympic athlete stipends. For example, the membership fees for the USA Swimming Association help to fund stipends for the top-ranking athletes on the U.S. Swimming Team. And some athletes do receive prize money from regional and national competitions, which helps to fund their training and provide money for living expenses. Sometimes the prize money is very small, just a few hundred dollars, but for some sports it could be tens of thousands just for winning a single competition.
Gold, silver, and bronze medal winners on the U.S. Olympic team do get a set amount of prize money. Currently, a gold medal nets the athlete $25,000, silver is worth $15,000, and bronze will get $10,000. Americans may be surprised to find out that many countries pay much more than the U.S. when it comes to coveted Olympic medals. In France, a gold medal is worth $66,000 USD. In Italy, a gold will get a bonus of $185,000 USD. But these bonuses are nothing compared to Singapore, which leads the way in paying over $750,000 USD for a single gold medal. In 2016, Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling netted the country’s very first gold medal payday.
For top athletes, including Olympians, the real money they stand to make is in endorsements from companies that want Olympians to wear, drink, eat, or otherwise promote their brand. Speedo’s sponsorship with Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps paid millions for several years, until Phelps switched out swimsuits to sign an endorsement deal with Aqua Sphere for an undisclosed amount. Some of his other endorsements have included Under Armour, Omega, Master Spas, Sol Republic, and 800razors.com. Usain Bolt, who has won the most Olympic medals of any sprinter ever, earned an estimated $30 million during 2016. The most famous athletes, in the most popular sports, stand to earn a very size-able paycheck from their endorsements. However, these athletes represent a small percentage of the 500 or so U.S. Olympic athletes, most of whom do not benefit from lucrative endorsement deals.
Other Countries’ Athletes
What about other countries? Well, there is a great deal of variation, but generally speaking, Olympians from around the world are in the same boat, at least financially. Most compete for the love of the sport and certainly not for the paltry, if any, financial gain that accompanies it. As already noted, some countries pay out quite a bit more for medals, and the countries who tend to earn less medals in the Olympics also tend to pay more for the ones their athletes take home. And of course, no matter which country an athlete hails from, endorsement deals are a universal language.
Author: Jeff Gitlen