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Athletes do get paid for their participation in the Olympics, although there is no consistent fee or system. Everything depends on the patchwork of governing bodies that break down by both nation and sport.
In the United States, under the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee program, U.S. swimmers, even non-medalists, do reasonably well so long as they are ranked in the top 16 in the world in their Olympic event. A swimmer can earn approximately $40,000 a year from USOPC through an athlete partnership agreement.
Below that top 16 level, the most remuneration a U.S. athlete gets may be the travel expenses to and from, footed by private and corporate donors.
The athletes in other sports have reason to envy the U.S. swimmers. A U.S. figure skater can struggle, even at the top of the sport, as is the case with Adam Rippon, winner of a bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, who gave up competitive skating soon thereafter because he could not make ends meet.
Prizes to Medal Winners
There is generally more consistency, though, as to the payday that comes directly attached to the medals.
A U.S. Olympian (according to the USOPC website) will earn $37,500 for each gold medal at Tokyo, $22,500 for each silver, and $15,000 for a bronze. The same pot will be split evenly for wins in team sports.
The United States is far from the most generous nation in terms of rewarding its Olympic medalists. The website MoneyUnder30 crunched the numbers. It found that the most generous homeland for an Olympic medalist was the city-state of Singapore, where an Olympic gold medalist receives USD$1 M. Silver gets a Singaporean $500,000. Bronze gets $250,000. So bronze gets a Singaporean more than seven times what a gold gets his U.S. counterpart.
Indonesia is not quite so generous to its gold or silver medalists as its Singaporean neighbors. Indonesia gives $746,000 to gold medalists, $378,000 silver, and $188K for bronze.
There is a compelling explanation for the gap between the awards from those two southeast Asian countries and those from the United States. A gold medal for either Indonesia or Singapore is a rare event, worthy of a feast and a goblet of rare coins. At the Olympics in Rio, Brazil, in 2016, U.S. athletes received 46 gold medals: 121 medals of all colors. At the same games, on the other hand, Singapore and Indonesia won one gold each.
Great Britain has its own system of Olympics finance. As with healthcare, the Brits do not believe the Games ought to be left to private initiatives.
The U.K. devotes £125 million (equivalent to USD$162 million) of government funds, some raised by lottery, to Olympic and Paralympic events each year. Some of that goes to athlete stipends. Here are some specifics as to how that is divided by sport.
The U.K. does not offer specific medal bonuses, they do offer the recipients of the bling a financial incentive to stay in the sport. This is a stipend of USD$36,000 per year to train and compete to its medalists.
Television Gigs, Sponsorships, and Endorsements
The international media exposure of the Olympics can work its magic. We mentioned figure skater Adam Rippon and his impoverished condition above. It is pleasant to note, though, that after he left competition he got a very commercial gig: ABC invited him to participate on its program, Dancing with the Stars. He and his partner, Jenna Johnson, won that season’s “mirrorball” trophy.
The guest contestants in DWTS get paid quite well: up to $300,000 for the season, by some accounts.
For favored athletes in favored sports, through sponsorships and commercial endorsements, the Olympics become a springboard to a rarefied world where the phrase “get paid” doesn’t cut it, income in counted in millions. It is analogous in this respect to the fame that can come from international soccer.
The track star Usain Bolt may be among the highest paid Olympians ever, with a huge sponsorship deal with Puma, and endorsement deals with Gatorade, Nissan, Visa, and others. The Jamaican star’s performances in Olympics have led him to a net worth of above $30 million.