How Do Olympic Athletes Make Money? For Some, Sports Are Far From Their Only Hustles
I loved almost everything about I, Tonya, but one of the things that stood out to me was how much it costs to be an Olympic athlete. I was particularly struck by one scene, in which judges knock points off of Tonya Harding's performance because her handmade costume isn't sharp enough, because she can't afford a sleeker outfit. Later, after competing in the 1992 Olympics, Harding starts waitressing, having failed to place high enough to win endorsements. I wondered, how do Olympic athletes make money?
First, let's take a minute to discuss how much it costs to compete in the Olympics. According to Forbes, families who raise Olympic athletes spend thousands of dollars a year on their training. Gymnasts, according to Forbes, spend about $15,000-per-year on their craft, while fencers run up a tab of about $20,000 annually. Alpine skiers can spend anywhere from $6,000 to $30,000 per year on training, while snowboarders clock up $3,000 to $14,000, and figure skaters spend about $10,000 annually. Considering it often takes as much as a decade of training to make it to the Olympics, that racks up to quite a big chunk of change, and since athletes aren't paid by the International Olympic Committee to compete, the costs can be hard, if not impossible, to recoup. Here are a few ways athletes can make a couple bucks:
Though the IOC doesn't hand out cash to medal-winning athletes, other Olympic subcommittees do. For instance, according to Business Insider, the United States Olympic Committee awards gold medalists $25,000, while silver and bronze medalists get $15,000 and $10,000, respectively. That's not a ton of money considering the cost of training (plus, of course, it's quite difficult to net gold) but if you do manage to medal a few times, you'll leave with a nice little nest egg. There are also smaller, sport-specific funds that grant medalists cash winnings.
Get endorsement deals
Product endorsement sponsorships can turn Olympians from amateur athletes to multimillionaires nearly overnight. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, is reportedly worth around $55 million, thanks in no small part to Phelps's endorsement deals with the likes of Wheaties, Under Armour, and Speedo, according to TIME. Other prominent medalists, like Usain Bolt, Ryan Lochte, and Simone Biles make anywhere from $2 million to $30 million from product endorsements. The bad news is, only the best and most famous athletes get big endorsements — as Tonya Harding pointed out in I, Tonya, placing fourth doesn't get your face on a Wheaties box.
It might seem counterproductive to sell an Olympic medal you worked so hard for, but if you do need the money, you can hock it for a (rather small) sum. Don Bigsby, president of president of the Olympin Collectors Club, told USA Today that Olympic medals can go for anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000. If you've managed to win more than one, it may not be the worst idea to auction off one or two of the extras — provided you're able to let the thrill of the win, and not the medal itself, sustain you.
Get a side hustle
Olympians who fail to score medals and endorsement deals — and, frankly, that's most of them — can struggle quite a bit financially, according to The Guardian. Considering athletes spend the majority of their time training and competing, it can be hard to hold down a full-time job simultaneously, but many Olympians still manage to pick up side hustles that pay at least some of the bills. Chris Wyles, an American rugby player, co-runs a craft brewing company. The Star Tribune reports that Curler Pete Fenson owns a family-run pizzeria in Minnesota. High jumper Amy Cuff develops apps. Speed skater Derek Parra worked at Home Depot, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Have a full-time career
There are Olympians with side gigs, and then there are Olympians who make the Olympics their side gig, or at least have careers that help fund their competition. According to the website of Lanni Marchant, a Canadian runner, Marchant is a practicing attorney in Tennessee. According to Accounting Today, triathlete Gwen Jorgensen worked at accounting firm Ernst & Young before taking time off to officially train for the Olympics in 2012. Gerek Meinhardt, a fencer, is a consultant at Deloitte & Touche, according to The Wall Street Journal — a firm whose hours are grueling enough without the added commitment of an Olympic training schedule.