The Amount Of Money Olympians Make Is Pretty Surprising

The Rio Games are winding down, and it’s likely that many of the names that have dominated the headlines will recede from public view to one extent or another. Some will retire from their sport (Michael Phelps) and others will continue to train for the next Summer Olympics (Tokyo, 2020.)

Have you ever thought about how those athletes are compensated? They work extremely hard for years, hoping for that gold-silver-bronze moment on the podium. But they have to eat while they’re doing that, too. So how much do athletes get paid for competing at the Olympics?

The short answer is: nothing. The International Olympic Committee doesn’t pay athletes anything, and in most cases, countries only provide bonuses to the athletes who win them (for example, American gold medal-winning athletes get $25,000 from the U.S Olympic Committee; silver medal winners get $15,000 and bronze medalists earn $10,000).

If you’re from Azerbaijan, the medal bonus is big money. If you’re from the U.K., however, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had to pay your own airfare to Rio. (Maybe they’re still paying off debt from the 2012 London Games.)

Now, some athletes get big endorsement deals. Take that Phelps fellow again, for example, who has an Under Armour endorsement among others (although Phelps may have ruffled UA feathers by wearing Nike in his Sports Illustrated cover shoot).

Michael Phelps photo
Photo by Geoff Livingston

Others, like gymnasts Simone Biles and Gabrielle Douglas are signed with Nike. Some Olympians do hold professional status, which isn’t a popular thing according to this poll—and that likely helps pay the bills.

One other point to note about U.S. Olympic athletes is that they are taxed on the prize money as well as on value of medals received. While other countries exempt their athletes from this tax, the U.S. does not and high-income earners such as Phelps and Biles will likely be taxed at a rate of 39.6 percent.

This means, when you factor in the value of a medal (based on current market rates, the values are about $600 for gold, $300 for silver and a measly $4 for bronze) along with the cash bonus, a U.S. medalist will pay about $9,900 in taxes for gold, $5,940 for silver, and $3,960 for bronze. Well, that’s income tax for you, right?

simone biles photo
Photo by Agência Brasil

Photo by Agência Brasil