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.

In Pictures: 6 Simple Steps To $1 Million

The Good
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. U.S. snowboarder Shaun White and alpine skier Lindsey Vonn have multimillion dollar endorsement deals to look forward to. White earned a gold medal in Vancouver in the halfpipe snowboarding event, and reportedly earns more than $8 million dollars a year from endorsement deals and corporate sponsorships. Vonn has already graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and earned more than $3 million last year but, thanks to her new Olympic gold medal and her high-profile attempt at five events in Vancouver, she is expected to earn even more in 2010.

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.

The Bad
Many of the other athletes who were in the public eye in Vancouver are not so fortunate and will just be getting by until the next Olympics. The struggling athletes who have received the most press are those of the host country. This is because most Canadian athletes are not fully sponsored like their counterparts in China, Germany and Russia, which sponsor their athletes year round. They also are less likely to receive the high-paying corporate sponsorships their American adversaries thrive on. This means that many Canadian athletes have to work year-round and are not able to train full time like other Olympic competitors. Once the Olympics are over, most Canadian athletes lose their sponsors and government funding from Sport Canada. Plus, even when they are sponsored, the maximum grant for Canadian athletes under the federal Athlete Assistance Program is $18,000 per year. Because of the huge financial burden that comes with Olympic participation, The Canadian Athletes Now Fund (CAN) estimates that 70% of Canadian amateur athletes live below the poverty live.
Athletes like 39-year-old Canadian skeleton racer Jeff Pain have spoken openly about living on government assistance and pawning watches, tools and kitchenware to raise money for basic necessities such as rent, food, and clothing. He's also paid for training equipment, supplies and travel expenses out of his own pocket.

Team Canada bobsledder Helen Upperton told the Toronto Star in February, "We don't have jobs. We don't have savings. We don't have anything. We are going to be halfway through our lives with nothing. We start with zero. We give our life to our country in our sport, to make our country proud. When you stop and retire, it's scary. It's like, Aw, man, what am I going to do?" Upperton won a silver medal in this year's Olympic games and has competed in the Olympics since 2000.

The Ugly
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.

Related Articles
  1. Bonds & Fixed Income

    Credit Default Swaps: An Introduction

    This derivative can help manage portfolio risk, but it isn't a simple vehicle.
  2. Economics

    Management Strategies From A Top CEO

    Jack Welch is a legend in the business world: during the two decades he was CEO of General Electric, the company’s value rose by 4000%.
  3. Investing

    From Supermodel to Entrepreneur: Gisele Bündchen's Sejaa Pure Skincare

    As one of the highest-paid models in history, Bündchen has turned her name and image into a worldwide brand, and Sejaa is part of her massive empire.
  4. Investing News

    Learn from These Big CEO Blunders

    A ceo can seem to have it all: power, influence and gravitas. But it can all erode — along with a company’s share price — in the wake of a scandal.
  5. Investing

    Oprah Takes a Big Bet With Weight Watchers

    Does "The Oprah Effect" still work, and can Winfrey reinvigorate a brand that's been struggling for years?
  6. Investing

    11 Top Celebrity Restaurants

    These 11 celebrities may come from a variety of industries but they have all seen the allure of the restaurant business, both high-end and low-end.
  7. Investing News

    Celebrities Who Opened Their Own Businesses

    From Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop to Jessica Alba's "Honest" products, a look at celebrities who have become entrepreneurs.
  8. Investing

    How Gordon Ramsay Built His Restaurant Empire

    Gordon Ramsay is already well-known as a successful media personality. But he is also a hardened businessman, who has turned failure into success.
  9. Investing News

    Top Entrepreneurs Who Started As YouTube Stars

    Who are the celebrities who have made it big on YouTube, and how did they accomplish it? Investopedia takes a look.
  10. Retirement

    Why Some Celebs Say 'No Inheritance for My Kids'

    To some of the super rich, inherited wealth is not the ultimate gift, it's a burden. Here's how their children—as well as charities—stand to benefit.
  1. Do penny stocks trade after hours?

    Penny stocks are common shares of public companies that trade at a low price per share. These companies are normally small, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Why is Manchester United (MANU) carrying so much debt?

    The takeover of Manchester United by the Glazer family beginning in 2005 saddled the historic club with substantial amounts ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What are Manchester United's (MANU) largest revenue sources?

    Manchester United is one of the most popular U.K. soccer teams. Its principal stadium is Old Trafford, located in the heart ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Does Manchester United (MANU) own Old Trafford stadium?

    Old Trafford Stadium was built for and is currently still owned by Manchester United Football Club (Man Utd.). This means ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What's the biggest sports endorsement deal ever signed?

    According to Forbes, basketball player Derrick Rose holds the largest endorsement deal as of 2014; the deal is for more than ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What are the biggest stadium naming rights deals of all time?

    The top three stadium naming rights deals of all time were all for stadiums hosting New York City teams. The largest was ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Take A Bath

    A slang term referring to the situation of an investor who has experienced a large loss from an investment or speculative ...
  2. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
  3. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  4. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
  5. Quick Ratio

    The quick ratio is an indicator of a company’s short-term liquidity. The quick ratio measures a company’s ability to meet ...
  6. Black Tuesday

    October 29, 1929, when the DJIA fell 12% - one of the largest one-day drops in stock market history. More than 16 million ...
Trading Center