Every two years, we are dazzled by the speed, strength, power, grace and endurance of Olympic athletes, but we often forget how a lifetime of hard work and financial struggle has brought them to this point. The Sochi Olympics costs are expected to climb to $50 billion, which is $10 billion more than the Beijing Olympics. This is troubling considering public money is funding the Games, which means there’s a better chance of incurring future debt. To put it in perspective, the city of Montreal didn’t finish paying off its $2.7 billion worth of debt from the 1976 Olympic Games until 2005.
While the cost to host the Olympic Games is often the main point of discussion, the debt many Olympic athletes (and Olympic hopefuls) accrue throughout their competitive careers is equally as significant and staggering. The costs of coaching, equipment, traveling to competitions, and a proper diet can rack up to six figures over the course of a ten year competitive career. Families are often left to foot the bill for their children, unless they can possibly secure funding from a sponsor. According to the US Olympic Committee’s 2012 financial reports, only 10% of total expenses went directly to support US athletes. Unless you are the top ranking athlete within your respective sport, the chances of receiving any funding is small. The little money allocated to supporting US athletes is dedicated to making the best even better.
The Jamaican Bobsled team needed over $80,000 to help fund equipment and travel costs. To give you a better idea of why it’s so expensive, the runners on a bobsled (the blades underneath the sled) can cost between $15,000 and $20,000. That does not include the cost of the sled itself and flying it over to compete in Europe. With the help of an online crowdfunding campaign, the team was able to raise over $120,000 in order to help fund their trip to Sochi.
What’s the payoff for all of this other than Olympic glory? The USOC grants monetary rewards to Olympic medalists. $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $5,000 for bronze. However, these bonuses are taxed. If they are to win, the monetary payoff does not nearly compensate for the money an athlete spends over the course of their career, either. Having said that, athletes who win big on the ice or the slopes can win financially as well, with major endorsement and book deals. In addition, an athlete’s Olympic success can serve as a platform to advocate for specific causes.
And those who do not make it? Olympic hopefuls who come up short pay just as much as those who do make the team. An elite level figure skater can spend over $80,000 a year on coaching costs, skates, outfits, and ice time. For example, take figure skater, Agnes Zawadzki, who did not make the Olympic team despite winning a medal at the national championships in previous years. In order to finance her skating career, her mother accumulated a large amount of credit card debt and was forced to declare bankruptcy.
These financial hardships represent the sacrifices and the risks prospective Olympians are willing to make and take to reach their goals. Next month, their talents will be on display as they go for the gold in Sochi. Go Team USA!
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