Here's how much Olympic athletes are paid for participating by the International Olympic Committee (IOC): zero dollars.
And that's despite the fact that the IOC makes millions each year. Mark Cuban — perhaps not happy at how his Mavericks players would be asked to play in the Olympics for no pay — published an article by Brett Morris on his blog earlier this year that reasoned that the IOC acted like a democracy:
"For the 2005-08 Quadrennium, revenue from U.S. only broadcast rights netted the IOC over $625 million, annually. And U.S. based corporate sponsors contributed over $120 million, annually, to the IOC."
Not a penny of that money goes to the athletes, whether they come first or last.
But that doesn't mean that athlete's earn no money, per se. For one thing, a variety of different, non-IOC groups do give out money.
For example, the US Olympic Committee pays out medal bonuses: $25,000 goes for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze (Though, as Yahoo! Sports notes, these prices haven't changed in 10 years, and are now worth over $5,000 less due to inflation). American athletes may also expect smaller prizes — a fund set up for wrestlers that will award a gold medal winner $250,000 springs to mind.
Other countries sometimes give out even bigger rewards — any Malaysian gold medal winner will get a gold bar worth $600,000 (not that there have been any since 1956).
Then, of course, there's sponsorship money, which can be huge for the big stars. For example, Ryan Lochte, the latest darling of the US swim team, is widely expected to take home over $2 million this year in sponsorship deal money (at least part of which will be linked to medal performance).
However, there is a catch with this money — you only get it if you are famous and/or win. Most athletes are not/do not. There are approximately 15,000 athletes competing in 26 sports, with around 1,000 medals up for grabs for the best of the best.
For the rest of the Olympic athletes, the numbers get tough. Figures from the USA Track and Field Foundation found that only half US track and field athletes ranked in the top 10 in the nation make more than $15,000 a year from the sport. Many in more obscure sports are lucky to make any money at all, CNN reports.