Olympians don’t get paid to participate in the games, so how do they make rent? We decided to investigate.
The most obvious way that the athletes get paid is if they win, and the prizes are pretty hefty. American gold medalists brought home $37,500, silver medalists $22,500, and bronze $15,000 at the Winter 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, Southern China. In team sports, the pot gets split evenly, so depending on the size of the team, the winnings become quite thin. This amount is nearly twice as much as the Summer 2016 Olympics.
Some countries, like Singapore, offer a gold medal bonus of one million dollars. Silver medalists receive $500,000, and bronze $250,000. However, they compensate these very generous winnings by having just a few athletes partake in the games. In 2018, they only sent one athlete, swimming victor Joseph Schooling.
Some less successful American athletes are lucky enough to have the option to be allowed performance-based stipends from the United States Olympic Committee. These stipends cover basics like rent and food, but cannot allow them to live an even slightly lavish lifestyle like top athletes such as Chloe Kim and Simone Biles. For example, speed skater Mitch Whitmore won a passable stipend after a fourth-place finish at a crucial 2017 competition. But he pointed out that he would have received a much bigger allowance had he finished third. The problem is, it is not enough to have a stipend: training at the top levels is an extremely costly endeavor, trainers and equipment racking up to thousands of dollars per month in fees. It is therefore quite common for the athletes to take advantage of residential training centers, where they can focus on their work and enjoy the benefits that these places offer. These include comped competition entry fees and equipment, among others.
Other athletes who are not eligible for such benefits and stipends elect to have part or full-time jobs. Others pursue higher education with the ultimate goal of being successful Olympic athletes. Some jobs are quite unusual, for example, Kazuki Yazawa, canoeist from Japan, is a Buddhist priest alongside being a fairly well-know Olympian.
But the biggest headliners, such as snowboarder Shaun White and skier Lindsey Vonn, tend to make their money from endorsement deals. These deals are quite simple; essentially, big companies handsomely reward the athletes for representing their brand in various ways. Today’s sponsorship responsibilities are quite social media heavy and include a certain amount of presence and promotion on personal Instagram and Twitter accounts. Others include being part of television commercials and wearing the brand on athletic clothing.
Some exclusive Olympic athletes, such as Michael Phelps, depend nearly exclusively on sponsorship and endorsements. The twenty-eight-time medalist has made over $95 million, but around $94 million has come from sponsors alone. These successes started during the 2012 London Olympics, where he began to bring in some $12 million a year. He has many sponsors, but some of the main ones include Visa, Under Armour, and Omega.
The bottom line is that even though being a top Olympic athlete has its benefits, the road to extraordinary financial success is exceptionally challenging. Realistically, Olympic athletes are much more likely to be getting by on an average salary. Medalists from most countries aren’t necessarily well rewarded, British athletes not being paid at all (though they do receive royalties). However, the glory and publicity awarded from participating in the games at all are enough to motivate even the least remunerated athlete.