Most Americans assume that since Olympic athletes are at the pinnacles of their sports, they’re all able to live comfortably, either from endorsements or competing professionally. After all, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ estimated net worth is about $55 million.
However, most who do make it to the Olympics receive very little funding, and most don’t make a lot of money off their sport outside of the Olympics, either. For example, two-time Olympic javelin thrower Cyrus Hostetler recently told The Washington Post that the most he’s ever earned in a year is $3,000.
In fact, 50% of track athletes who rank in the top 10 in the U.S. in their event earn less than $15,000 annually from the sport. Think about that for a moment. $15,000 per year doesn’t even begin to cover the expenses these athletes face. They have to pay a coach, they pay facility fees, they pay for trainers and strength coaches plus their equipment. They they have to get to competitions – most of which require foreign travel – and pay for that in addition to entry fees. Let’s not forget that injuries are a huge part of training for a sport at that level. One MRI could set them back financially for years.
Sure, there are many celebrity athletes who are professionals, have corporate endorsements and have their airbrushed faces on a Wheaties box. Snowboarder Shaun White and skier Lindsey Vonn compete in the Olympic Games and then return to a life of material comfort. But these folks are few and far between.
The average U.S. Olympian simply does not live in the highest level of the financial stratosphere. According to the Track and Field Athletic Association, there’s a “steep pyramid of income opportunities” for track and field athletes, with only a “select few” able to earn a very good living.
Unlike many other countries, the United States federal government doesn’t fund Olympic programs, though some athletes get special funding from their national governing bodies. For example, USA Swimming reportedly provides approximately $3,000 to national team members of its top 16 ranked athletes.
But other aspiring athletes are actually unemployed and need to be supported by their families — and some families have even gone bankrupt trying to support their son’s or daughter’s Olympic dreams. There are countless stories of families going bankrupt in order to support their child’s dream.
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.
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.
Chasing the Olympic dream can be exhausting. It’s not a straight path. There are skilled athletes who had to drop out of their chase for a medal because of finances.
So when you watch the Olympics, consider the personal stories of the U.S. Olympians who might be making less than $12,000 a year.
The Chasing Gold Project was created to help financially support these athletes while they chase their dreams of representing the U.S.A. Consider donating today!