Four years, ago, watching the 2008 Olympics, I began to wonder how much Olympic athletes earn — if anything — for competing in the games. After all, training for the Olympics (never mind competing) is at least a full-time job.
The answer surprised me.
Most Olympians earn nothing for Olympic competition. Many countries’ Olympic teams, including the United States’, provide travel expenses to Olympic competitors, but even these funds don’t come directly from the government, rather a pool of private and corporate donors.
The only direct income a few Olympians receive for their competition is from corporate sponsorships. For an A-list Olympian like Michael Phelps, that means plenty of dough to support himself while he trains and competes from companies like Speedo. And, in addition to regular sponsorships, the swimwear outfit paid Phelps $1 million for breaking the 1972 record for seven gold medals in a single Olympics. He used the money to start a charity.
All U.S. athletes can also earn a “medal bonus” from the U.S. Olympic committee for each medal won. The Committee pays American medal winners $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze medals. Some countries, though not all, pay athletes similar medal bonuses. Italy and Russia lead the pack. In 2012 Russia will pay $135,000 for a gold medal, $81,600 for silver and $54,400 for a bronze medal. Italy will pay gold medalists $182,400; the country also paid salaries of $64,000 to its 14 gold medal winners from the 2008 games through this summer’s Olympics.
While these bonuses are a nice way to reward athletes financially for a big, big accomplishment, many will never enjoy the steady income that comes with a corporate sponsorship, making what they endure to compete all the more impressive.