Olympic athletes come from every background, every socioeconomic category. Some of these athletes are professionals in their sports with mega-million endorsements and corporate sponsorship. Some, however, have a more modest daily life and depend on their everyday careers to fund their training and travel.
The top tier of each sport can see millions of dollars a year just in endorsements and commercial earnings, before you factor in the winnings form their sports. Snowboarder Shaun White earns an estimated $20 Million from various endorsements and his majority shares the Air & Style competitive snowboarding event. Michael Phelps net worth total of $44.3 million comes almost entirely from endorsement deals with major companies like Under Armour and Visa. Serena Williams net worth sum of $135 million comes from her status as the #1 ranked player in women’s singles tennis, plus the resulting endorsement clout.
So what about the athletes who aren’t a Williams, White, or Phelps? How do these Olympians earn a living? One of the most favored ways to earn some extra gold is to literally earn the gold. USOC pays athletes medal bonuses: $25K for gold, $15K for silver, $10K for bronze — rates that have stayed the same for over a decade, and thus have declined in value due to inflation. USA Swimming pulls in about $100M per year from registration fees from about 300K members, members who are on the National Team that rank 16th or higher get a $3K per month stipend.
The Olympic Job Opportunities Program (OJOP) is designed to provide job assistance and career counseling opportunities to athletes who possess high Olympic potential. The jobs available in this program offer an opportunity for athletes to begin a productive career outside of track & field, while providing them the necessary time off for training and competition. You must be ranked in the top 25 internationally, in an Olympic event, by Track & Field News or the World Rankings in Athletics list at the time of entry into the program.
Most athletes actually have very humble beginnings, training at home and with their only financial support being their parents. Many have part time jobs at the pizza place down the corner, or train and coach others in their respective field. Some companies see this struggle and offer assistance to their employees who qualify for events. Home Depot, for example, provides athletes with a 20-hour workweek -- but pays them for a full 40 hours. Olympic Training Centers in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Lake Placid, New York and Chula Vista, California offer free room, board and training to athletes competing in the Olympics. There are teachers, accountants, shoe salesmen, and business owners who have the Olympic dream and talent but typically follow it without the fanfare and endorsements of the household names.
Olympians often earn a living just like the rest of us. They get up every day and support their families and then train hard all evening and weekend, using every spare moment to perfect their skills. Olympic athletes get paid to win, that’s true, but they have to work very hard to get there.