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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Braden: The Olympics are Bankrupting Athletes


Every four years, athletes from over 200 countries gather for the chance to represent their respective countries in the pinnacle of sports competitions; the Olympic Games. Armed with years of demanding five-hour training days and an absolute dedication to cause, those fortunate enough to earn a spot on the Olympic team and potentially earn a medal, mark their place in history and head home to continue conditioning once again. That is, of course, the best case scenario. With new records broken every year since the first Olympic Games in 1896, athletes competing in more physically strenuous events pass their peak after only two Olympic appearances, increasing the already intense level of pressure to win gold. For the limited few who get the chance to lip sync their national anthem on the podium, payouts for time invested don’t extend far past intangibles like national pride and recognition.

The journey to become a winning Olympic athlete requires a lifetime of sacrifices. Foregoing a normal childhood in hopes of shaving off that extra fraction of a second is commonplace, and this is still no guarantee of success. At the last winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, 2,952 athletes competed for a total of 306 medals — not including multiple medals given for team sports — meaning almost 90 percent of participants returned home empty-handed.

For many, this will be their last Olympic appearance due to injuries and age-related physical hindrances, but worse though, for the able-bodied hopefuls who continue their exhaustive training only to come short of qualifying in 2022.

For such an uncertain, demanding lifestyle, it’s easy to understand why home-viewers of the games assume these athletes get paid an amount that corresponds to these trying variables. Unfortunately for most Olympians, winners and losers alike, this assumption is mostly false.

While some sports pay their top-tiered team members a monthly stipend, these funds are primarily generated from local sponsors and have become increasingly rare. These monthly stipends can last several months to a year, and the amount paid is based purely on performance.

In an interview with ABC News, Mitch Whitmore, a U.S. Team speed skater expressed his personal financial struggles he claims scourge the Olympic community.

“You want it to just be about the competition,” Whitmore says. “But … you slip or just have some little thing go wrong, and it’s hard to eat for several months.”

So while many athletes struggle to pay for travel, team fees and equipment costs, advertisers see profit margins in the hundreds of millions. NBC reportedly paid over $1.2 billion for the broadcasting rights for the 2016 Summer Olympics, and even though TV viewership was and is still down nationally, they saw over $250 million in revenue.

An increase in prize money for medals earned might offer a solution, but, again, this would only apply to about 10 percent of competitors for the winter games. The U.S. currently pays winners $37,500 for gold, $22,500 for silver, and $15,000 for bronze — a meager sum considering the difficulty required to qualify, let alone place on a podium position.


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