With all of the fame that Olympic athletes seem to have (hello, Simone Biles!), you might expect a lot of fortune to go with it. As the Beijing Winter Games get underway, plenty of athletes will be competing for medals, honor, and—as it turns out—lots of money.
Competitors don't really receive a fixed salary. Instead, their income comes from a bunch of different revenue streams. Basically, their wealth depends a lot on their side hustles.
So, how much money do Olympians make? Turns out, it varies. But most athletes rely on at least a few of these different income boosters:
U.S. Olympians make a good chunk of money from winning medals.
As you'd probably expect, athletes get a sizable check for winning an event in their sport. But that money doesn't come from the International Olympic Committee.
This year, U.S. Olympians can expect to receive $37,500 for each gold medal they win, $22,500 for each silver, and $15,000 for each bronze from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USPOC), per Forbes. U.S. competitors in the Paralympic Games will earn $7,500 for each gold, $5,250 for each silver, and $3,750 for each bronze. And, that amount doesn't change whether an athlete is competing in an individual or team event, unlike in other countries.
These numbers are a hefty 50% increase from what American athletes earned at the 2016 Summer Games, per CNBC. Another win for athletes: if their gross income is $1 million or less, their winnings won't be taxed, either.
They also may get performance-based stipends from the USOPC.
Some U.S. athletes also receive stipends that help cover their rent and food, per CNBC. The money may also be used for medical expenses, depending on each sport's regulations. But the size of these stipends can vary wildly based on how well an athlete places and which sport they compete in.
For example, speed skater Mitch Whitmore said he received a nine-month stipend that paid for his training and living expenses after finishing fourth in a 2017 competition. But a third-place finish would have guaranteed him a lot more money, he said.
Sometimes, there's a "medal bonus" from an athlete's home country, too.
In some countries, athletes may make hundreds of thousands of extra dollars based on the medals they win. In Singapore, gold medalists net a cool $1 million, while Indonesia pays around $750,000, according to Money Under 30.
A bronze medalist in Singapore will still make over four times what a U.S. gold medalist will—and that's just the beginning of what they can earn after the Games.
Some athletes make cash through endorsement deals.
Of course, athletes only win medals once every four years. In between Games, many Olympians partner with companies for endorsement deals.
For example, retired Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt has made more than $30 million in one year just from endorsements alone, per AS. And gymnast Simone Biles no doubt makes a massive chunk of change from her deals with Uber Eats, Nike, Visa, and more. But every athlete's contract is different.
Plus, there are always #ads on social media.
Good old spon-con helps many athletes make it big. If competitors have an audience of a few million followers, that's usually enough to attract advertisers' interest.
"It’s not just, like, 'Hey, sponsor me because I’m on TV,'" alpine skier Stacey Cook told CNBC. "It’s, 'Sponsor me because look at the money that I brought you last year in these events and this is what I plan to bring you next year.'"
But many Olympians still have to work other jobs to make ends meet.
Still, many athletes aren't at the Simone Biles or Lindsey Vonn level of fame—and that makes scraping together an income much harder. Roughly 60% of Team USA's athletes in Tokyo made less than $25,000 a year, according to Forbes.
Whitmore, the speed skater, explained that financial worries put a lot of extra pressure on Olympians. "You want it to just be about the competition," he told CNBC, "but. . . you slip, or just have some little thing go wrong, and it’s hard to eat for several months."
Other competitors resort to crowdfunding sites to gather the money and support they need to keep competing.
“Outside of the major sports, and those athletes that have high profiles, a lot of these athletes really struggle financially,” Dr. Tim Baghurst, the head of the Interdisciplinary Center for Athletic Coaching at Florida State University, told WUSA9. “A lot of them have part-time drop jobs and it's only in the Olympics where we really, really see them shine.”
So, how much does an Olympian make? For most athletes, it's not enough.
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