Winning a gold medal at the Olympic games is the ultimate accomplishment for an athlete. A gold medal means you’ve reached the absolute pinnacle of your sport, and athletes train for years or even decades just to make it to the Olympics.
As the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi draw to a close, athletes from 20 different countries will leave the Olympic Village with gold medals. It’s obvious that achieving a gold medal in your sport is priceless for an athlete, but there are real-world monetary benefits associated with winning a gold medal, as well. Gold-winning athletes stand to cash in from increased endorsements and other professional opportunities in their sports, but that’s not the only way earning the gold can line an athlete’s pocket.
Most countries actually pay cash bonuses to athletes that win medals at the Olympics. Since a medal-winning athlete can benefit an entire country’s reputation, it makes sense that national delegations pay these cash bonuses to their medal-winning athletes.
Not all countries pay the same bonus for winning a gold, of course. Some countries have gone without gold medals for so long that they’ve upped the bonuses significantly for anyone who can finally bring home the gold. Other nations’ Olympic committees pay out so many gold medals that they couldn’t afford to dole out a higher price. It all depends on how much a nation is willing to reward its athlete for enhancing national pride with an Olympic win.
While some nations don’t pay any bonuses at all for a gold medal, most Olympic countries do. The Scandinavian nations of Sweden and Norway, for example, do not pay any bonuses to its athletes for winning gold medals, but their athletes do enjoy a high quality of life in these rich nations, anyway. Great Britain is another country that pays no bonus to its medal-winning athletes.
The United States pays out $25,000 per gold medal, which is actually on the lower end of medal bonuses. The United States delegation, however, has to pay out a lot of these cash bonuses, as the U.S. is always near the top of the medal count for both the summer and winter Olympics.
Other nations pay much more. Here are the ten countries that pay their gold-medal winning athletes the largest cash bonuses.
10 Switzerland — $86,000
Switzerland is well-known as a rich country, and its athletes enjoy a very high quality of life, much like athletes in Norway and Sweden, which pay no bonuses. However, Switzerland actually pays a very good bonus per gold medal of $86,000. The Swiss have won six gold medals so far in Sochi, with four golds coming in skiing events, and two more in snowboarding events. The Swiss Olympic committee already owes its gold medal athletes more than half a million U.S. dollars for these games.
9 Russia — $135,000
Russia is hosting these Olympics, and is also paying its athletes a generous bonus for winning gold medals. Russian competitors have earned 13 gold medals for the home country, so far, in a nice variety of events. Russians have taken home the gold in figure skating, speed skating, skeleton, bobsled, and snowboarding. With a $135,000 due per gold medal, Russia has one of the largest medal-bonus bills of any nation.
8 Estonia — $138,500
Estonia will pay a hefty sum of $135,500 to any athlete who wins a gold medal in the Olympics, but so far in 2014 the nation has not won any medals at all, despite sending 25 athletes to Sochi in six sports. Estonia hasn’t had to pay out its big gold medal bonus in a while, since the last time it won a gold medal at any Olympics was in the men’s discus throw in the 2008 summer games in Beijing, China.
7 Belarus — $150,000
Belarus pays its gold-medal athletes very well, at $150,000 a pop and it’s going to have to pay out quite a bit, since its competitors have done very well at the Sochi games. Belarus sent 25 athletes to Sochi in five different sports, and so far they have performed admirably, winning a total of five gold medals. Belarus took home the gold in three biathlon events and two skiing events.
6 Italy — $189,800
Italy promises nearly $190,000 for a gold medal, but so far its athletes have not managed to win any golds in Sochi. This is despite the fact that Italy sent 113 athletes to the 2014 Olympics, competing in 13 different sports. The best that Italy has managed, so far, is two silver medals, one in alpine skiing and one in speed skating. Italy did pay out more than $1.5 million in gold medal bonuses for the 2012 summer games, where its athletes took home eight gold medals.
5 Latvia — $192,500
Latvia pays nearly a fifth of a million dollars per gold medal, but so far its 58 athletes at the 2014 Sochi games have not won any. The Latvians have managed one silver and two bronze medals in Sochi. Māris Štrombergs took home the last gold medal for the Latvians, with a winning performance in men’s BMX cycling in the 2012 summer games in London.
4 Kazakhstan — $250,000
Kazakhstan offers a whopping quarter-million dollars per gold medal, which should give its athletes a powerful incentive to finish atop the podium. While it has sent 58 athletes in 10 sports to Sochi, the Kazakhstan athletes have managed only a single medal so far, a bronze in men’s figure skating. Kazakhstan did win seven gold medals at the 2012 London summer games, paying out an estimated $1.75 million in gold-medal bonuses.
3 Azerbaijan — $500,000
Azerbaijan promises an unbelievable half-million dollar bonus to any of its Olympic athletes good enough to win a gold medal, but it’s not likely the nation will have to pay that bonus any time soon. Azerbaijan sent just four athletes in two sports to the Sochi winter games, two in skiing and two in ice dancing. None of them managed to snag a medal. Azerbaijan did win two golds in the 2012 summer games, both in wrestling.
2 Malaysia — $600,000
Malaysia is a relatively populous country, with more than 28 million inhabitants. Despite that large potential pool of athletes, the Asian nation has never won an Olympic gold medal. Any athlete that can finally bring a gold home to Kuala Lumpur will be handsomely rewarded, to the tune of $600,000. In its history, Malaysia has come close three times, winning one silver medal each at the 2012, 2008, and 1996 summer games, all in the sport of badminton.
1 Singapore — $800,000
Singapore is a tiny island in Southeast Asia that enjoys its status as a sovereign city-state. With the third highest gross domestic product per capita, and a fantastic location for international trade, Singapore has a lot of good things going for it. Winning gold medals at the Olympics, though, has not been one of them. The island nation of 6 million has never won a gold in the Olympics, but promises to pay out a whopping $800,000 bonus to its first athlete that manages to do so. Singapore has won two silver medals in its Olympic history, one in weightlifting in the 1960 Rome summer games, and more recently in table tennis at the 2008 Beijing games.