Kazakh Olympians Join Ex-Soviet Comrades for Top Medal Pay

Photographer: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Dimitry Reiherd of Kazakhstan trains during moguls practice at the Extreme Park at Rosa Khutor Mountain in ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics, on Feb. 4, 2014.

There is only one way a South Korean Olympic champion can match the biggest cash rewards countries give athletes for medals at the Sochi Winter Games -- wait 22 years.

By accepting a lifelong monthly payment from the Korean government for winning a gold medal rather then taking a lump sum now, it would take that long to collect $250,000. Choosing to have the payment in one installment brings $62,000, and ranks Korea 10th among countries that plan to pay athletes for good results at the Games in the Russian resort.

Kazakhstan and three other ex-Soviet states -- Latvia, Belarus and Estonia -- are among the most generous of the 26 countries that won at least one medal at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

“That’s great our athletes get really good cash: Sports is nation’s health, right?” Bakytbek Khamit, a spokesman for the Kazakhstan Agency for Sport and Physical Culture, said in a telephone interview from Astana.

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The central Asian country, about four times the size of Texas, is offering $250,000 for each gold medal at the games, with even sixth-place finishers getting a $5,000 bonus. Khamit said the bonuses in Kazakhstan, whose only medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was a silver in the women’s biathlon, help to motivate the athletes among its 17.7 million citizens.

“You can buy a three- to four-room flat in the capital for this money,” he said. “I guess this amount is pretty good for any post-Soviet country.”

The list of bonuses, which includes only official amounts from National Olympic Committees and Sport Ministries, has Russia in sixth place with $113,000 for a gold medal. Regional and private bonuses make that figure almost three times bigger, according to Russian Olympic Committee head Alexander Zhukov.

U.S. Bonuses

The top three 2010 Winter Olympic medal winners -- Canada, Germany and the U.S. -- pay smaller bonuses than Kazakhstan or Russia. Some countries, such as Croatia, Norway, Sweden and the U.K., don’t pay at all.

The U.S. Olympic Committee gives athletes $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for a bronze medal.

“We spend all our commercial money to prepare our athletes for the Olympics,” Bjorn Folin, a spokesman for the Swedish Olympic Committee, said in an e-mail interview. “We spend over 8 million euros ($11 million) per year on training camps, coaches and scholarships to our athletes.”

The British squad doesn’t pay bonuses because athletes aren’t motivated by financial rewards, the team said in an e-mailed statement.

“We believe that the drive, dedication and commitment required of Team GB athletes is motivated, first and foremost, by the desire to represent their country to the very best of their ability on the greatest sporting stage in the world, the Olympic Games; and their love of sport,” the British team said.

Austria rewards champions with 17-piece silver coin sets worth $21,600, according to Wolfgang Eichler of the Austrian Olympic Committee.

Most Korean gold medalists choose the pension plan rather than a one-time payout. The monthly payment for a gold medal is $923, which adds up to $250,000 in 22 years. If the athlete lives more than 22 years after winning gold, he surpasses the $250,000 total.

Pensions Preferred

“Most athletes I know prefer the pension type,” Shin Chung Sick, who teaches sports marketing at the KBS Sports Academy college in Seoul, said by telephone. “Many medalists have failed in personal businesses they set up with bonus money and that has reinforced the idea that pensions are a better choice in the long run.”

Olympic pensions boost athletes’ “stable living” and help them focus on performance, the Korea Sports Promotion Foundation said in an e-mail.

“I would recommend pensions over one-off bonuses if anyone asked,” Lee Yong Sik, a researcher at the Korea Institute of Sport Science, said by telephone. “Athletes’ careers end early compared to ordinary people, and pensions guarantee a decent life until death.”

Country Gold Silver Bronze 1 Kazakhstan $250,000 $150,000 $75,000 2 Latvia $192,800 $96,400 $67,500 3 Italy $189,800 $101,700 $67,800 4 Belarus $150,000 $75,000 $50,000 5 Estonia $138,500 $92,300 $60,600 6 Russia $113,200 $70,800 $48,000 7 Switzerland $88,600 $77.500 $66,450 8 Czech Rep. $73,900 $37,000 $22,200 9 France $67,800 $27,100 $17,600 10 S.Korea* $62,000 $51,670 $36,170 11 Slovakia $60,800 $47,300 $27,000 12 Netherlands $40,600 $30,500 $20,300 13 Finland $40,600 $20,300 $13,500 14 Poland $38,330 $25,560 $15,980 15 Japan $29,300 $19,600 $9,800 16 Slovenia $27,000 $23,700 $20,300 17 USA $25,000 $15,000 $10,000 18 Austria** $21,600 $16,500 $14,000 19 Germany $20,300 $13,500 $10,150 20 Canada $17,900 $13,400 $8,900 21 Australia $13,000 $8,700 $6,500 22 China*** N/A N/A N/A 23 Croatia No bonuses No bonuses No bonuses 24 Norway No bonuses No bonuses No bonuses 25 Sweden No bonuses No bonuses No bonuses 26 UK No bonuses No bonuses No bonuses

* South Korean athletes choose between a bonus in one installment or monthly payments until death - $923 for gold, $692 for silver and $484 for bronze medals. ** Austrian athletes get sets of 17, 13 or 11 silver coins. *** China was paying $82,500 for gold medals, according to 2012 article by QQ.com that cited the General Administration of Sport.

SOURCE: National Olympic Committees, Sports Ministries.

To contact the reporters on this story: Stepan Kravchenko in Moscow at skravchenko@bloomberg.net; Sam Kim in Seoul at skim609@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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