The Olympic flame has not yet been lit in Sochi and yet the 2014 games are already the most expensive in history. Bloomberg Businessweek reports total cost around $51 billion. Despite the immense spending and massive money brought in by advertisements, salaries for the athletes are not among the expenditures.
In the past, the rules of the Olympics completely banned professional athletes from competing. Jim Thorpe, voted greatest athlete of the 20th century by an ABC Sports viewer poll, was stripped of his medals when it was revealed that he had been paid for two seasons of semi-professional baseball prior to competition. After the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the rules were altered, removing all restrictions on professional athletes, moving the games towards the superstar-filled spectacle we have today.
As it stands, the only compensation an athlete can expect is endorsement deals or bonuses handed out by a country’s Olympic Committee. For example, in the U.S. a gold medal will net its winner a $25,000 bonus; silver and bronze yield $15,000 and $10,000, respectively. Other countries have their own policies- Malaysian gold medalists will receive a large bar of solid gold, but all are strictly for medalists, and often only for popular sports.
Ultimately, it comes down to the sponsorship deals. Shaun White is the poster child for this – his net worth sits at about $20 million dollars. Other big name athletes that you’ll see this year, like alpine skier Bode Miller and snowboarder turned charitable underwear mogul Hannah Teter, are also worth huge sums of money, but the reality is that the majority of the athletes at the Olympics struggle to get by, perfecting their craft while the financial fruits of their labor are reaped by the IOC.
Photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER DEMIANCHUK