Financing the Olympic Dream

Is anyone else out there a super-fan of the Olympics? Ordinarily, I don’t spend a lot of time watching sports. When the Olympics start, however, I’m glued to the tv for two weeks. I’ll watch anything and everything. I’ve been like this since I was a kid and my friends and I would make our own flags and medals to create our own Olympic Games.

Training to be an elite athlete is a full-time job. There are multiple training sessions a day, strength training sessions, physical therapy sessions, and time spent focusing on rest and nutrition. Yet, none of those activities make the athlete any money. Actually, every single one of those people helping the athlete needs to get paid. So, how do they pay them along with all of the real-world expenses like rent, gas, and phone?

Countries like Russia and China are known for providing strong government support for Olympic athletes. The United States, however, is one of only three countries in which the government provides no financial support at all for the development of Olympic athletes. Olympic hopefuls in the United States have to depend on corporate sponsorships and appearances. While corporate sponsorships for equipment are not difficult for elite athletes, they compete against professional sports leagues and athletes for corporate sponsorship dollars. As a result, most Olympic athletes in the United States can’t depend on paying their bills with sponsorship funds. Adam Rippon’s story about stealing apples from the gym has gone viral.

Sure, we can come up with names like Lindsey Vonn (net worth around $6 million), Shaun White (net worth around $40 million), and Michael Phelps (net worth around $55 million). They, however, are the outliers even among Olympic athletes. Many depend upon support from their parents and university athletic programs. Other Olympians have a side hustle. Speed Skater Derek Parra worked at Home Depot, and Pete Fenson (curling) runs a pizzeria. Olympians have been known to have side hustles as teachers, janitors, coaches, freelancers, waiters and waitresses, and even attorneys and accountants.

Training expenses alone can easily total $100,000 per year. So, that’s tough on athletes being supported by their families and those trying to make it on their own. It’s no surprise that some Olympic athletes even resort to crowdsourcing to fund their Olympic dream. Keep all of that in mind while you enjoy the athleticism and artistry of the Olympics. Appreciate not only the physical and emotional struggles it took for them to get to this one moment but also the financial struggles they have overcome as well.