Thursday, March 25, 2010

Just How Much Money do Olympians Make?

When we hear the term "celebrity," many of us immediately think of our favorite actors/actresses. Some of us think of our favorite bands or musicians. And some may even think of important political figures. But more and more, people are starting to regard Olympic athletes as celebrities.
American athletes such as Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn, Lindsey Jacobellis and Apolo Ohno dominate magazine covers, headlines, talk shows and news reports.  They are every bit a celebrity as Robert De Niro, Madonna or Michelle Obama - they've just made their fame in a different way.

Olympians are some of the most revered athletes in the world.  They compete against hundreds of athletes from their own country and then move on to compete against hundreds of athletes from dozens of other countries around the world.  But despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on training, the countless painful hours of practice and even the glory that comes with winning an Olympic medal, these athletes (with the exception of a select few) don't even make a fraction of what other professional athletes or celebrities in the United States make. 

This is the biggest difference between Olympians and a regular professional athlete: Olympians (it would seem) aren't motivated mainly by money.  According to, Kobe Bryant makes $23 million a year playing for the L.A. Lakers.  This doesnt include his sponsorships or other business adventures.  Robert De Niro makes millions of dollars for each movie he stars in.  Madonna makes millions of dollars on each tour she does, plus revenue from her music sales, endorsements and other business adventures.

Olympic athletes predominately make money through sponsorships or endorsements.  In fact, American athletes receive very little money by competing in the Olympics.  According to an article by, American Olympic athletes receive a "medal bonus" from the U.S. Olympic Committee: $25,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. projects that Shaun White will make about $10 million this year, which includes prize money, sponsorsphips, endorsements and other business deals.

American Olympic athletes that the general population has hardly heard of (for example, the American curling team, bobsled team or even some figure skaters) make considerably less than that.  They are not as well known and thus do not make as much in endorsements, and aren't making as much from the Olympics because they aren't constantly dominating the podium.

The United States curling team, for example, had to personally go out and sell sponsorships and raise money for this year's past Winter Olympic Games.  Each member receives a $300 per month stipend from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which doesn't even cover the costs of traveling and basic necessities.  In fact, each member of the team has another job (or two) to cover other costs of the sport.

So, unless you're one of the few rockstar Olympic athletes (Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn or even Michael Phelps), you're not making much money at all.  In fact, you're probably losing money.

Knowing this, though, leaves me even more awe-struck and respectful of American Olympians.  It may be naive, but I honestly think that the vast majority of American Olympic athletes are motivated by the glory of being an American Olympian.  I'm sure Shaun White's pricey endorsements help to motivate him to strap on a board, but I honestly believe he just plain likes to snowboard.  He likes to be the best, he likes to compete and he likes the competition of the Olympics.  The U.S. curling team does what they do because they love the sport and they love the Olympics.  How many NBA players do you think would continue to play if their salaries were cut down by 75 percent?  Probably not many.

If I had to pick, I think I would choose to be an Olympic gold medalist rather than an overpaid NBA all-star.  Olympians just seem more ... pure to the idea of athleticism.


  1. Wow, I was just thinking about this the other day. That is interesting the athletes get paid according to what medal they receive per the US Olympic Committee. I also didn't know about the stipend, but it is more than the $50 I received each two weeks at my internship in Rochester, New York

    Most of these Olympians, and nearly all of them living outside the United States, probably have full-time jobs and struggle just like non-Olympians do.

  2. I didn't put this in the post, but when I was researching all of this I also found that relative to other major countries competing in the Olympics, U.S. athletes get paid the least. We are the only country that doesn't publicly fund our Olympic athletes - money comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee or private organizations. Russia had the highest per-medal monetary prize ($100,000 for gold, $60,000 for silver and $40,000 for bronze).

    And yeah, I think most Olympians (especially those outside of the U.S.) struggle to fund their passion. It's something how one of the most high-profile sporting events in the world, which hosts the most talented athletes of the world, also yields the smallest financial incentive.

  3. That would be interesting to see how much U.S. Olympians get paid. Wish it was public information.

  4. And then 35% of their medal prize is taxed away instantly.

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