2018 US Olympians open up on money struggles

Finished fourth in the 500-meter speed skating event at a key competition at the 2017 World Championships Mitch whitmore a nine-month stipend to help finance his training and living expenses.

But if he had skated half a second faster to finish third, he would have secured a podium spot and a top monthly allowance of several hundred dollars, he says.

It would have made a difference. Whitmore and many other Olympians are struggling financially, often paying high team fees and travel costs. Meanwhile, a rigorous, full-time training program leaves little time for paid work.

NerdWallet spoke to winter athletes competing at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea about what it means to be an Olympian for their budget.

Income is linked to performance

Whitmore competed in the Sochi Games in 2014 and the Vancouver Games in 2010 and hopes to win her first Olympic medal in Pyeongchang. This may be his last shot – he is considering quitting the sport after this season because he says it is difficult to earn a steady income from speed skating.

He relies on performance-based allowances from the US Olympic Committee to pay for rent and food, he says. The amount of the nine-month allowance is based on the placement of the skaters at a competition from the previous season – the Olympics or the World Single Distance Championships, depending on the year.

American skaters who place in the top three in an individual event earn the highest pay; fourth to eighth place graduates earn the amount of the second level allowance; and competitors from ninth to 16th place in the third allocation level.

You want it to be all about the competition. But … you slip, or just a little thing goes wrong, and it’s hard to eat for several months.

Mitch whitmore, Olympic speed skater

This system – which determines skaters’ allowances based on their performance in a single race – puts additional pressure on athletes like Whitmore, who says her biggest financial stressor is rent.

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

Local sponsors support outsiders

The biggest sponsors often go to the best competitors in each sport. But even athletes who have not been medalists can be sponsored, especially when local businesses are interested.

Take alpine skier Stacey Cook, for example. She has competed in three Olympics but has never won a single medal, and competes in the Pyeongchang Games alongside teammates including Lindsey Vonn, who has won two US Olympic medals in the sport and was sponsored by corporations. such as GoPro and Oakley. Cook is sponsored by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, her home resort in Mammoth Lakes, California, where she hosts camps, fundraisers, and other events.

Alpine skier Stacey Cook competes with the help of sponsors. (Photo credit: © Troy Tully)

“It’s not just like, ‘Hey, sponsor me because I’m on TV,’” says Cook. “It’s’ Sponsor me because look at the money I brought you last year at these events and that’s what I plan to bring you next year.”

Five-time Olympic cross-country skier from Alaska, Kikkan Randall, counted Alaska Seafood, the organization that promotes the state’s fresh fish, among national sponsors, including LL Bean and Kashi.

Side activities and crowdfunding fill in the gaps

Training for the Olympic circuit is a full-time job, but some athletes take the time to part-time concerts. Sadie Bjornsen, a two-time Olympic cross-country skier, worked as a nanny early in her professional ski career. A first-time bobsleigh Olympian, Chris Kinney works remotely in social media and marketing for the Industrial Scaffolding Committee, an organization that provides training and certification to industrial builders.

Freestyle skier Jaelin Kauf cleaned houses and hauled restaurant tables. She also raised over $ 6,650 on the RallyMe athlete crowdfunding site.

Freestyle skier Jaelin Kauf cleaned houses and hauled restaurant tables. She also raised more than $ 6,650 on the athlete crowdfunding site RallyMe, according to her public campaigns on the site.

Kauf isn’t alone: ​​the US ski, freestyle and snowboard teams recently raised more than $ 58,000 to support athletes on the Pyeongchang Road. And over 1,000 campaigns appear on the GoFundMe crowdfunding site when you search for “2018 Olympics”.

The reward

The best athletes get even more sponsorships after the Olympics – think about Wheaties box placements. And Olympic medalists win cash prizes from the US Olympic Committee. At the 2018 Games, American athletes will earn $ 37,500 for each gold medal, $ 22,500 for each silver medal and $ 15,000 for each bronze medal, a 50% increase over what the winning athletes won at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

In addition to cleaning the houses and bus tables, freestyle skier Jaelin Kauf raised over $ 6,650 on the athlete crowdfunding site RallyMe.

In addition to cleaning the houses and bus tables, freestyle skier Jaelin Kauf raised over $ 6,650 on the athlete crowdfunding site RallyMe. (Photo credit: © Steven Earl)

Unlike previous years, American athletes will not be taxed on the value of their medals if their adjusted gross income is $ 1 million or less ($ 500,000 or less if married and filing separately).

But for most athletes, competition is not about money. It’s about pushing the limits of their body and their sport – the same things that thrill viewers every Olympic Games.

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