How athletes fund their Olympic experience

Jul 25, 2008 at 12:58 p.m. ET

The road to the Olympics can be an expensive one. Dedicating one's life to excel in a sport without pay, not to mention the cost of coaches, equipment and living expenses can be financially taxing. Since these athletes don't get paid to train, how do they find the money to fund their dream while paying their other bills?

Piggy Bank and Goggles

The following are 10 things you may not know about how athletes pay their way to the Olympics.

1. The U.S. is one of just three countries which do not provide government funding for their Olympic program. Instead, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) relies on corporate and individual contributions, as well as the sale of broadcast rights in order to train and underwrite the full expense of the U.S. team in the Olympics, Paralympics, Pan American and Parapan American Games.

2. Many small business owners take it upon themselves to help fund Olympic hopefuls. For example, Keith Hanson owns several shoe stores in Detroit, Michigan and provides runners with free housing, health insurance, coaching, free running shoes and part-time jobs in his stores.

3. In Colorado, companies like Home Depot, JCPenney and US West participate in the Olympic Job Opportunities Program, which matches U.S. Olympic and Paralympics hopefuls with employers who will work around their training and competition schedule. Home Depot, for example, provides athletes with a 20-hour workweek -- but pays them for a full 40 hours. In 2006, 33 of the 211 U.S. team members worked for Home Depot.

4. Other countries like China pay a mere $230 monthly stipend and performance-based bonuses to their athletes, while Sport Canada pays their Olympians $1500 a month. However, as of 2006, 70 percent of their athletes were below the poverty line.

5. Olympic Training Centers in Colorado Springs, Colorado , Lake Placid, New York and Chula Vista, California offer free room, board and training to athletes competing in the Olympics.

6. Private citizens get in on the act as well, as in the past, grade-schoolers in Sioux City, Iowa, held a bake sale and collected recyclable bottles and cans, while second graders from Georgia collected pennies to help fund America's Olympic team.  

7. The U.S. Olympic Foundation, which was partially funded with excess money from the 1984 Female athlete on path to OlympicsSummer Games in Los Angeles, gives half its assets to the USOC member organizations and invests the rest to provide for future athletes.

8. Those member organizations that the USOC funds (aka National Governing Bodies) support various training and athlete development programs. Each NGB governs a specific sport and raises funds to train athletes, educate coaches, enhance training facilities and cover travel expenses.

9. Big business also comes into play, as many corporations support U.S. athletes in exchange for the ability to use the Olympic symbol in their adverting. Many of these companies include, Bank of America, General Motors, Johnson & Johnson and Anheuser-Busch Inc.

10. Communities also come together to support their local athletes. For instance, the state of Michigan sells commemorative license plates with the funding going to the Olympic training center at Northern Michigan University. Likewise, when gold medalist speed skater Bonnie Blair wanted to train in Europe when originally hoping to make the Olympic team, the Champaign Policeman's Benevolent Association in Illinois raised the money she needed.

Realizing a dream

Not every athlete is well-known enough to obtain direct corporate sponsorship providing them with an excess of funds to train. Lesser known Olympians hoping to make their mark in sports history must rely on other sources of income or donations in order to keep their dream alive.

But who knows? Maybe their hard luck story and an impressive showing in Beijing will be just what they need to ensure that Visa, Coca-Cola or McDonalds will come calling and support them on their way to the 2012 Olympic games.