5 Financial Facts About the Olympics That Might Surprise You


Find out which countries pay their athletes the most for winning medals and what sports are the most expensive to compete in!

The 2018 Olympic Winter Games have opened in in Pyeongchang County, South Korea. Right now, athletes from around the world are gearing up for the challenge of a lifetime: two straight weeks that can make or break their athletic careers.

Those of us who weren’t blessed with superhuman ice skating, snowboarding, or bobsledding skills might imagine that the Olympians gracing our screens are raking in money left and right. After all, those medals are solid GOLD, right? Winning one should be enough to set you up for life! Wired calculated that a solid gold medal, which weighs about 3.35 pounds, would be worth about $76,000—and that’s just the metal itself!

But the truth is, Olympic gold medals are only plated with 24-karat gold. The rest of it is sterling silver, which is a mixture of silver and copper, dropping their market value to around $500!

Didn’t know that? Now you do! And in honor of the snowiest games of the season, we put together a list of five more Olympic financial facts you can spout out as you watch all the triple axels, ski jumps, and whatever it is you do to win a game of curling.

1. Many countries give out cash bonuses to athletes who win medals, but how much depends on your country (and some countries don’t offer them at all!) 

The U.S. “medal bonus” is $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze. Not bad, right? Actually, it’s on the lower end of the spectrum! Singapore leads the pack with a $741,000 bonus for gold, a $371,000 bonus for silver, and a $185,000 bonus for bronze. The list below shows just how much (in USD) countries who shell out a medal bonus give their athletes, and it’s all over the map:

1. Singapore


2. Indonesia


3. Kazakhstan


4. Azerbaijan


5. Italy


6. Hungary


7. Russia


8. France


9. South Africa


10. United States


11. Germany


12. Canada


If this list seems a little unfair, consider that the countries rounding out the bottom are also the countries that typically go home with the most medals every year. Athletes from Kazakhstan, for example, took home 18 total medals in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, while athletes from the U.S. came back with 121. Something tells us that if Kazakhstani athletes suddenly start winning by the hundreds, their Olympic Committee might reconsider its lucrative medal rewards.

2. The Sochi Winter Olympics were the most expensive in history. 

Remember back in 2014, when pictures of the unfinished and seemingly thrown-together Olympic village became a massive online meme? Yeah, those shoddy dorms and (now-abandoned) stadiums were not cheap. In fact, despite being one of the least organized Olympic events in history, it was also the most expensive, clocking in at a whopping $55 billion!

For comparison, the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics cost just $13.1 billion, and the 2012 London Summer Olympics cost $10.4 billion. Ouch!

3. U.S. Olympians are NOT (always) paid to compete. 

While some countries pony up and give their athletes a stipend for training and competition, the U.S. Olympic committee does not. In fact, many Olympic hopefuls pay thousands out of their own pockets for training, equipment, and travel.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Many of the best—or most famous—Olympians clean up with endorsement deals. Alpine ski darling Lindsay Vonn has a net worth of $3 million thanks to deals with Rolex, Oakley, and Under Armour. This pales in comparison with the net worth of snowboarding legend Shaun White, who rakes in $10 million a year and allegedly has around $40 million in the bank from sponsors like Red Bull and Burton.

4. Some Olympic sports cost (way!) more to compete in than the average American makes per year. 

According to U.S. Census data, the median household income in the U.S. is $56,516. For some professional athletes, pursuing their dreams of Olympic gold can cost many times that. On the higher end, Olympic shooting can cost upwards of—wait for it—$700,000 per year to compete in! According to The Fiscal Times:

“Professional shooters average anywhere between 500-1,000 rounds a day at $16 per 25 shots for targets and ammunition, according to Kim Rhode, who holds the world-record for winning five consecutive medals. That comes to $5,000-7,000 a day in full training. A gun can cost anywhere between $6,000 to $300,000. Rhode spent between $20,000-$30,000 on her custom gun.”

Athletes who are good enough for the Olympics, but lack the star quality or endorsements that a famous face like Shaun White enjoys, might see themselves or their families going deep into debt, possibly even being forced into taking out a payday loan or a bad credit loan to cover their living expenses.

5. There are actually still a lot of tickets left for the upcoming games, and they’re not cheap. 

The Pyeongchang Olympics had only met 55 percent of their ticket sale goal in late December, likely due to the global anxiety about North Korea, located just 60 miles away from the games. Even now, mere days before the opening ceremony, there are still tickets for sale, if you have the money. According to Romper:

“Tickets to individual events and ticket packages are also available through the National Olympic Committees and authorized ticket resellers such as CoSport (though there appear to only be tickets available to the 2018 Para Olympics there) and Jet Set Sports (you must request the site’s questionnaire to access ticket purchasing). The U.S. National Olympic Committee is also advertising ticket sales through CoSport on the Team USA website. If you’re not based in the U.S., you can find out where to purchase tickets online from this list of different websites countries are using.”

If you can afford to drop a grand to get to South Korea, hop on a train to Pyeongchang County, and shell out a cool $1,800 on a hotel room for the week, you might just be able to see some of the games in the flesh. Just make sure you invest in a good winter coat before you head over there, as the current temp in Pyeongchang is a balmy 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

To learn more about the financial side of sports, check out these related posts and videos from OppLoans:

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