If you kept tabs on the Vancouver Olympic games, which wrapped up on Sunday, you were probably inspired and awed by some of the great athletes you saw. Surely participating in the Olympics must set you up on the fast track to fame and fortune! But although the Olympic event is very well polished, life for many Olympic athletes is much less posh than you might imagine - and for some it's downright tough. With the Winter Olympics nearing a close, many Olympic athletes are returning to everyday life, away from the lights, glamour, and the funding of corporate sponsors. And the reality that awaits Olympic athletes can vary greatly depending not only on their performance in the Olympic games, but also on the countries they represent.
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Many U.S. Olympic athletes are well funded thanks to strong college-level support for many Olympic sports combined with high-paying sponsorship deals. In fact, most of the highest paid Olympic athletes are American.
Kim Yu-Na, the Olympic gold medal figure skater from South Korea, reportedly earns $8 million. Her status as a national icon - "the Ice Queen" - in her home country allows her to cash in on sponsorship deals from Hyundai (OTCBB:HYMLF), Samsung, Nike (NYSE:NKE) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), among others. Alpine skier Maria Riesch also makes the list of well-compensated athletes, bringing in $1 million per year.
Many of the other athletes who were in the public eye in
Some athletes are truly underfunded on all levels. Take the three-person winter Olympic contingent from India, who arrived in Vancouver without Olympic opening ceremonies attire - and for the luger of the contingent, without a sled (it had broken a few months earlier in practice). Luckily, members of Vancouver's Indian community stepped up to outfit these athletes for the games, but the situation for Indian athletes in winter sports is unlikely to change any time soon because there just isn't enough interest in these sports in India.
Don't assume that once an athlete reaches the pinnacle that is the Olympic games, his or her life will hit easy street. Even winning a medal is no guarantee of financial success; Olympic athletes have to medal in the "right" sports. A gold medal in snowboarding or skiing has the potential to bring millions of endorsement dollars with it, whereas a medal in skeleton or bobsledding will have Olympic glory as its sole payoff.