Being an Olympic athlete may not be as lucrative as you think. While it varies by country, American athletes do not technically get paid. According to Business Insider, United States Olympians do receive a bonus for each medal they win. A gold medal nets a U.S. athlete $25,000, a silver medal $15,000 and a bronze medal is worth $10,000. Given the Olympics happen every four years, this is not enough to live on. Former Olympic athlete Edward Etzel wrote an article for Market Watch explaining that many athletes have other jobs.
In reality, countless hopefuls and current Olympians hold down real jobs working all shifts. You name it, they do it: waiter, teacher, coach, construction worker, public speaker, janitor and many other jobs. For example, swimmer Amanda Beard has worked as a model and as a public speaker to earn a living.
Many are undergraduate and graduate students who train at their universities. Some serve in the military. Several fortunate athletes live and train at regional Olympic training centers like those at Colorado Springs, Chula Vista and Lake Placid.
The U.S. Olympic Committee has created athlete employment programs that offer some support and employment opportunities.
Fans won’t be seeing Lindsey Vonn or Shaun White waiting tables at their local Chili’s any time soon. White has an estimated net worth of $40 million, while Vonn’s net worth is $3 million. However, they are more the exception to the rule, rather than the standard for Olympic athletes.
During non-Olympic years, some athletes are able to participate in competitions where they are able to win money depending on their sport. Snowboarding is just one sport that has a good infrastructure for competitors to earn a living. Athletes can also earn money on sponsorship deals and endorsements. For some athletes, their sport is a hobby that ends up costing them money as one curler explained to the USA Today.
“I feel like I will break even every year if we have a successful year,” U.S. curler John Shuster told the USA Today. “If we have not a successful year, it probably ends up costing me a bunch of money.”
Since the United States government does not offer funding for Olympic athletics, the funding comes from the private sector. Team USA has a non-profit that accepts donations to try to help subsidize athlete’s expenses. The site explains the funding, and why it is necessary.
Unlike nearly every National Olympic Committee in the world, the United States Olympic Committee’s Olympic programs receive no federal government support. Thus, the U.S. relies on private resources to help fund America’s elite athletes as they focus on their pursuit of excellence at the Games.
In preparing for the Olympic or Paralympic Games, U.S. athletes require funding for sport performance services, elite-level coaching, Olympic Training Centers and international competitions.
These athletes would not be able to manage such costs without Americans like you – Americans who believe in the power of sport, who support their training and who encourage their dreams.
NRP reported the top American biathletes get a stipend of $2,000 a month, but many are not able to earn even that. This creates high turnover in sports where the athletes are not able to earn a living.
“What you see is athletes that stay long enough to make an Olympic team, but then quit because they can’t make a living, and they can’t ensure their future financially,” U.S. biathlete Lowell Bailey explained to NPR. “Imagine if you’re a doctor and you go to work and don’t know whether or not you’re gonna get a paycheck. That’s the life of a U.S. biathlete.”
After learning the dedication and sacrifice it takes for most Olympic athletes to compete for their country, it gives you a new appreciation for the competitors representing your country.