Shawn Johnson, 2008 gold-medal Olympic gymnast and pint-sized jailbait, will be taking home a whopping paycheck of zero from the U.S. Olympic Committee this year. The same goes for swimming sensation Michael Phelps, beach volleyball vixens Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, and fencing champ Mariel Zagunis.
Yet somehow, despite the cost of blowing tiny countries like Georgia off the map, Russia is still finding the extra dough to cough up a $150,000 cash prize to any of its Olympians who bring home the gold. Even Afghanistan just gave the country’s first ever medal winner a free house! In fact, the U.S. is one of few countries whose government provides no regular subsidies or payments to its Olympic athletes.
Somehow, though, I suspect Shawn Johnson and her fellow American gold medalists won’t have to worry about keeping roofs over their heads. Johnson, who attends a public high school in Iowa, is expected to score around $1 million in endorsement as a result of her accomplishments in Beijing. Michael Phelps already has six- and seven-figure deals with companies like Visa and AT&T.
For the typical American, a million dollars can go a long way. In fact, if invested wisely, a person of any age could live a decent life off the interest alone. Of course, tell that to any of the thousands of bankrupt former superstar athletes who may have once owned cars more expensive than our houses. Sadly, for Olympians like Johnson and Phelps, endorsements tend to fade as quickly as the Games themselves. And for gymnasts like Johnson, many of whom only get one shot at Olympic gold in the face of ever-increasing competition from the next generation, the sponsorships that follow from Olympic glory rarely guarantee an easy life.
Remember Kerri Strug from the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta? She still scores the occasional tiny commercial deal, but she’s held a variety of “common” jobs since her valiant performance on the vault that led Team USA to gymnastics gold. She’s been everything from an elementary school teacher in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. to an Olympic news correspondent. Shawn Johnson, despite her gold-medal performance on the balance beam in Beijing, probably won’t see endorsement deals quite as grand as Strug’s. Worst of all, by the time the London Summer Games roll around in 2012, Johnson will be 20 years old—ancient in the world of women’s gymnastics.
At least Johnson’s family has indicated that any money from commercial deals would go straight to her college education. But if she wants to keep living the life of a million-dollar Olympian, Johnson may want to consider a high-paying career track like medicine… or software engineering. How about it, Shawn? Get your comp. sci. degree and we can code the night away together…