The Olympics, at one point, were billed as a competition between highly skilled amateur athletes. That all changed in the 1990s, when the need for better TV trumped the need for an outdated athletic code. Greed is good, we guess. But top athletes are paid for more than just endorsements or professional contracts. They also get a nice chunk of change from their Olympics appearances. “For the United States, gold, silver and bronze earn $25,000, $15,000 and $10,000 respectively,” writes Good Housekeeping. “That means Phelps will earn $140,000 in Rio alone and a whopping $650,000 across all five of his games appearances.” That’s not enough to justify years of getting up at 4:30 A.M., dedicating your entire existence to a single sport, and hoping that your body ages perfectly in coincidence with the Olympics cycle, but it is pretty nice. Here’s several countries’ paydays in graphic form.
The few remaining true amateurs would nominally face an issue with the NCAA. The college sports governing body is notoriously awful when it comes to athletes earning money for their skillset, but decided to make an exception for Olympians. So when Katie Ledecky enrolls at Stanford as a freshman, she’ll bring her six medals, $115,000, and pay her victory tax without sacrificing future eligibility.