At the end of the race the athlete pants, “I’ve given everything to be here.”
The overwhelming majority of Olympians have given everything to be an Olympian. What does that mean? It means a lot of things in the way of sacrifice.
In the United States we associate success in sport with lucrative contracts and swelling bank accounts. In basketball, baseball, football, golf and even hockey, athlete salaries are as big as some of the egos. Let’s save the debate on whether the athletes deserve it.
I was a “professional” swimmer representing the United States for 16 years, retiring in 2008. I swam in three Olympics and earned 10 Olympic medals. I earned close to $750,000 (total revenue before taxes from swimming and swimming-related sponsorships) over the course of my 16 years as a swimmer. Almost a third of that amount was Olympic medal bonus money.
My income was unique. In fact, I was one of the “lucky” Olympic athletes who earned anything at all from their sport. There is no professional swimming league and until it exists there really isn’t such a thing as “professional” swimming. Of the Winter Olympic sports, how many have a professional league, besides hockey? Most Olympians are endorsers of product if they’re lucky, and the Olympic movement. This is a free choice Olympic athletes make to pursue what they love, at all cost.
There are of course a few glaring exceptions who convert Olympic gold to financial gain.
My intention is not to try to gain sympathy or pity for the Olympic athletes. The point of sharing my information with you is that I think it will shock many readers to know that the plight of the Olympic athlete, even most gold medalists, is a financial one that reaches beyond tough training and tougher competition.
When an athlete says, “I’ve given everything to be here,” I understand what those words mean and the underlying sacrifice involved. In 2000 I sold my car to buy a plane ticket to compete at the Olympic trials.
I don’t think that the general public understands the sacrifice these athletes make to proudly represent the United States of America, a country where success is measured in dollar amounts. The point of this entry is to remind the country that success isn’t measured in dollar amounts, and that most of the athletes you see performing at the Olympics gave EVERYTHING to be there.
--Gary Hall Jr.
Editor's note: The Times is pleased to have Gary Hall Jr. blogging for us during the Olympics. Gary has represented the United States in international swimming competition for 16 years, competing in three Olympics and earning 10 Olympic medals. This experience built a global network of media, corporate and political contacts that came to his support when he was diagnosed with type 1, or insulin dependent, diabetes. Gary has served as a diabetes advocate and consultant to some of the largest companies in the diabetes industry, including J&J's Lifescan division, Novo Nordisk, BD Medical and Eli Lilly and Co., among others. He has testified in front of Congress on current healthcare issues, campaigned for diabetes awareness, headed patient outreach programming, education initiatives and fundraising efforts for important diabetes research. Gary currently serves as the director of business development for b2d Marketing, a leader in business-to-doctor marketing and business development.
In this Aug. 20, 2004, file photo, Gary Hall Jr. celebrates after winning the gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle at the Olympic Aquatic Centre during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)