Every Olympic athlete dreams of winning a gold medal. NBC provided viewers with compelling stories of the front runners, but out of the approximately 11,000 athletes participating in the London games, less than 400 will win a gold medal and around 10,000 will go home without any medal. Other than great memories, interesting stories and a shiny piece of gold-plated silver, do gold medal athletes make money from their Olympic experiences?
Depending on the country you represent, you may get paid if you medal. The United States pays $25,000 bonus to gold medalists, while Australia pays $20,900. If you're a Russian gold medal athlete, you stand to collect $135,000. Italy pays $182,000 to gold medal winners. Singapore, a country that has never won a gold medal, is offering its athletes $800,000. China only pays $51,000. If you happen to be from the U.K., you get your image on a stamp this year.
Although gracing a stamp might be difficult to pass up, more indirect compensation may be waiting for some gold medal athletes. Reuters reports that the marketing value of gold medal athletes depends on the sport and the country, but endorsement deals can be lucrative. An athlete winning gold in London could make upwards of seven figures over the four years leading up to the 2016 games in Rio, with sports like swimming, track and field, and gymnastics attracting the most interest from sponsors.
Michael Phelps, probably the best-known swimmer to Americans, is worth an estimated $45 million, but much of his wealth came as a result of the fame he gained at the 2008 Beijing games. His sponsors, Nike and Speedo, reported receiving $9 million worth of advertising exposure just days into the Beijing games. Later, companies like Hilton Hotels and AT&T made him part of their advertising campaigns, netting him even more money.
This year's American standout is swimmer Missy Franklin. Her Phelps-like talent and media friendly smile and personality have made her one of the best-known faces of the 2012 games.
Franklin has taken a different path. Unlike Phelps, she doesn't have immediate plans to turn professional. Instead, she will likely turn down earnings and endorsements to accept a college scholarship worth up to $200,000. CNBC Sports reporter Darren Rovell reported that Franklin had already passed up at least that much in prize money. According to sports agents, Franklin, like Phelps, could stand to make millions in endorsements, speaking engagements and autograph signings if she chose to go pro.
The Olympic Cost
For every Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps, there are thousands of Olympic athletes who will never see a medal, endorsement deals or the slightest bit of fame. Instead, these athletes will spend tens of thousands of dollars training for the games. One athlete reported spending $150,000 just to qualify to attend the Olympics. For those who are older, they often struggle to hold a full-time jobs while training in the sports they love.
The Bottom Line
The thrill and drama of the Olympics is what brings billions of viewers around the world to watch hours of events. Although a small percentage of the athletes will go on to make millions, most will simply come away with stories of their 2012 Olympic experiences. While they may not win medals, just competing is an accomplishment that very few athletes can claim.