How Much Money Olympic Athletes Really Make

The wealth of Olympic athletes runs the spectrum from amateurs with next to nothing to professional stars making millions. From medal bonuses to brand endorsements, read on to find out who has the cash to compete and who had to wager it all for a shot at Olympic glory. 

Medal bonuses

Arguably the easiest way for Olympic athletes to make money at the actual Games is to bring home a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Many countries, the United States included, provide payouts to Olympians for the medals they win. In 2012, CNBC cited Italy as the country with the world's highest payout, offering its athletes $182,400 for each gold medal. Russia was runner-up with a $135,000 golden bonus, and France placed third at $65,200 per gold. Great Britain offered no medal bonus to its winning athletes.

The U.S. government does not technically pay its athletes for Olympic hardware. Instead, a non-profit called the United States Olympic Committee foots the bill. The committee will reportedly pay U.S. Olympians $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze medals in 2016, according to Forbes. The government then comes in and taxes those bonuses.

The highest paid athlete in Rio

Forbes released a list of the highest paid athletes competing in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. NBA star Kevin Durant topped the list. The small forward reportedly made a not-so-small $56.2 million between June 2015 and June 2016. Durant was also a member of the 2012 gold medal U.S. Olympic basketball team, so he's definitely got the stats to back up the cash.

Track and field Olympians

If you're a track and field star, you're likely making peanuts, unless you're Usain Bolt. The record-breaking Olympian from Jamaica earned $20.3 million in prize money and bonuses between July 2015 and July 2016, according to Forbes.

Not all lightning fast runners are so lucky. In July 2016, two-time Olympian runner Nick Symmonds told the International Business Times, "I know Olympic medalists who live below the poverty line." According to a 2012 report from the Track and Field Athletes Association (via CNN Money), 50 percent of its athletes who rank in the top 10 in the United States in their event made less than $15,000 annually off the sport, including sponsorship, grants, and prize money.

Gabby Douglas: a Cinderella story

Gabby Douglas may have secured millions in endorsement deals following the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but leading up to that moment, life was hard for her family. According to The Washington Post, Douglas's mother, Natalie Hawkins, was forced to go on disability and could not even pay the family's water bill in 2009. Two years later, Hawkins was unable to accompany her daughter to Tokyo to watch her win gold at the World Championships, and she reportedly filed for bankruptcy months before the London Games in 2012 after struggling to pay for her daughter's training.

Fortunately, the effects of Douglas' Olympic glory turned things around for her family. She may have entered the Games below the poverty line, but she was one of the fortunate Olympians to emerge as a millionaire thanks to endorsements.

Adam Nelson auctions himself

U.S. shot put silver medalist Adam Nelson was lacking sponsors and struggling to make ends meet after the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece, so he got creative. Nelson decided to sell himself on eBay. According to The Washington Post, he offered "what amounts to a short-term sponsorship...promising the winning bidder that he will wear its company logo for one month and will make one appearance on the company's behalf."

The auction worked! Nelson launched a $12,000 deal with MedivoxRX Technologies to advertise Rex, The Talking Bottle, an aid for senior citizens and blind people who have trouble reading medicine labels.

The strongest woman in America

Sarah Robles has been hailed as the strongest woman in America, and she definitely earned that title with a seventh place finish in weightlifting's top weight class at the 2012 Olympics. Her path to the London Games was not, however, paved with fame and fortune. According to Buzzfeed, Robles trained for the Olympics by supplementing her $400 monthly stipend from USA Weightlifting with visits to food banks, donations from friends and family, and what she called "prayers and pity."

Endorsements are few and far between for females in her sport. "Women weightlifters aren't go-tos when Sports Illustrated is looking for athletes to model body paint in the swimsuit issue," reported Buzzfeed. "And male weightlifters often get their sponsorships from supplements or diet pills, because their buff, ripped bodies align with male beauty ideals. Men on diet pills want to look like weightlifters—most women would rather not."

Fellow Olympic weightlifting medalist Cheryl Haworth summed it up. "Being an Olympian isn't always glamorous. We don't get tons of dough. Maybe one or two percent of athletes can actually make a living off it," she told Buzzfeed. "It's a sacrifice that not everyone is willing to make...Sarah's ability to get through those tough times really sets her apart."

Robles found a way to return to the Olympic Games and go for gold in Rio in 2016.