Rio 2016: How Much Money Do Athletes Win for a Gold Medal?
The luster of gold medal victories quickly overshadows any pre-Olympic drama that might have threatened to take center stage. Forget about doping scandals in other countries and subpar living conditions; it’s time to celebrate the pure athleticism and drive that has already led the American Olympic team to the top of the medal count so far in Rio.
According to NBC, the United States leads the other countries in medal winnings so far, with a total of 26 medals across a range of competitions. Nine of those are gold so far, with high expectations over the next several days. Gymnast Simone Biles has lived up to astronomical predictions so far, leading the U.S. women’s all-around team to uncontested gold. Katie Ledecky, a phenom in the 400 meter freestyle, beat her own world record by more than a body length and was a full five seconds ahead of her nearest competitor to claim her first gold medal of the Rio games. And Michael Phelps has added a few more gold medals to his Olympic war chest, most notably reclaiming his throne in the 200 meter butterfly after faltering in London four years ago.
It’s clear that these and other premier U.S. athletes have some money coming their way. But just how much do the Olympians receive for winning gold? We dug into the numbers to find out.
Money for winning a gold medal
It’s likely surreal to hear your national anthem playing as you accept a gold medal for beating the best athletes the world has to offer. It’s probably the cherry on top to realize your hard work will pay off to some degree, too. The U.S. Olympic Committee provides some stipends and other monetary support for some athletes as they train for the Olympics, but the competitors aren’t paid for appearing in the Olympics. They do receive a medal bonus, however.
The committee pays an athlete a reported $25,000 for each gold medal they win. Silver medalists receive $15,000, and bronze recipients get $10,000. These figures haven’t changed in several years, meaning the amount has depreciated over time because of inflation. Still, $25,000 is a nice bonus for taking home gold. However, those Olympic winnings are classified as normal income, meaning it’s taxed by Uncle Sam. The Guardian estimates that athletes will forfeit about 39% of those winnings to taxes, with CNBC estimating that up to $8,986 of the gold medal winnings would go back to the government.
During the 2012 games, Florida Republican Senator (and former presidential candidate) Marco Rubio proposed a bill that would make the Olympic winnings tax free. The bill never became law, though other proposals are currently in discussion.
Medal payouts across the globe
When it comes to medal bonuses, the U.S. is in the middle of the pack. Some countries like Singapore have been known to offer $753,000 for a gold medal — though no citizen has ever brought home a gold medal for the country. Some carrots on sticks are bigger than others, apparently. India will offer about $160,000 for any gold medalist, and China often lauds its winners with cash, luxury cars, and sometimes even new homes for its victorious athletes. Italy pays $185,000 in U.S. dollars to a gold medal winner, and Russia pays $61,000.
Other countries don’t pay anything at all for bringing home the gold. Athletes from the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Norway don’t get an extra windfall for their medals.
If athletes wanted to sell their medals, it could bring some extra money their way — but probably not much. Gold medals today are only made with 6 grams of pure gold – the other 525 grams are silver. The precious medals are still worth something, but Karus Chains estimates it’s roughly $500 apiece. If the medals were made of pure gold, like they used to be in the early 1900s, their current value would be around $21,000.
Of course, value is in the eye of the buyer. The gold medal won by Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Olympics sold for $1.4 million. Mark Wells, a forward on the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hockey team, sold his gold medal for $310,700 in 2010 to help cover the costs of expensive medical bills for a rare genetic disease. Other medalists have also sold their medals for several thousand dollars, either for personal use or for charity.
The biggest moneymakers
Of course, the most elite athletes likely won’t have to worry about selling their medals, if they manage their incomes properly. Michael Phelps is worth an estimated $50 million — a huge portion of that from corporate sponsorships and endorsement deals. Much of that money is made through ads before and after their primetime Olympic performances.
Athletes like Phelps and Simone Biles have a unique opportunity for financial windfalls, since they compete in high-profile events and are revered for their talents. Biles, in her first Olympic games, already has deals with Nike and Special K, along with other contracts with laundry detergent and gymnastics equipment companies. Other former Olympians have used their fame to score endorsement deals, acting gigs, or sportscaster positions.
This year, Visa is launching a global financial education program at the Rio Olympics that intends to inform athletes about budgeting, saving, and money management best practices. The company will offer a preview of the program while the athletes are still in Rio, and will follow up with additional training sessions in the fall. Top-dollar Olympians certainly wouldn’t be the first athletes to go broke after they fade from the spotlight, so the program could be helpful for managing their large income now with the reality that the money from sponsorships won’t always continue.