Phelps May Take Home $510,000


Aug. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Michael Phelps, the U.S. swimmer who set five world records at last year's world championships, may still take home $510,000 after failing in his bid to win a record-tying seven Olympic gold medals and earn a $1 million bonus.

Phelps will get $135,000 from U.S. Olympic and swimming groups for winning a gold and two bronzes in his first three events in Athens, and will receive $75,000 for each victory in his remaining five races. Swimwear maker Speedo International Ltd. had offered a seven-figure bonus for matching Mark Spitz's record for gold medals in a single Olympics.

Two decades after the International Olympic Committee allowed athletes to be paid, the number of sponsors and sporting groups offering incentive payments is growing. Olympic officials from Albania to Zimbabwe plan to reward medalists, with the Singapore National Olympic Council promising $300,000 for a gold medal.

``There's no downside,'' Phelps said last week at a news conference in Athens. ``It brings more attention to our sport and puts us on the map. We've been on the covers of magazines and all the major newspapers, so it's good for the sport.''

Phelps fell short of seven gold medals after he lost to Australia's Ian Thorpe, 21, and Pieter van den Hoogenband, 26, of the Netherlands yesterday in the 200-meter freestyle, and the U.S. 400-meter free relay team finished third behind South Africa and the Netherlands on Sunday. He qualified for tonight's final in the 200-meter butterfly, is entered in two more individual events and plans to swim two additional relays.

Glory vs Bonus

John Lucas, a retired kinesiology professor at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pennsylvania, and lecturer on the history of the Olympics, said bonuses are vulgar and detract from the ideal that taking part in the Games is more important than winning.

``The glory of winning gold should be enough,'' said Lucas, 77, who qualified for the finals of the 10,000-meter run at the 1952 U.S. Olympic trials.

The International Olympic Committee, which runs the Games, doesn't award prize money but has no rules against its members paying incentives. Most national Olympic committees receive funding from the IOC, sponsors and the government. The U.S. and Britain don't provide public funding for their teams.

``What they do with their money is their business,'' IOC President Jacques Rogge, 62, said at a news conference Thursday in Athens.

U.S. Incentives

The U.S. Olympic Committee introduced bonuses at the Barcelona Games in 1992 and this year increased its gold-medal payout to $25,000 from $15,000, spokesman Bob Condron said. A silver medalist gets $15,000 and a bronze medal winner $10,000.

Some sports federations add their own payments. USA Swimming, the sport's governing body in the U.S., doubles the USOC bonuses, handing $50,000 to each victorious athlete. An American who wins the men's 1,500-meter freestyle or the women's 800-meter freestyle in world-record time will receive $1 million as the organization seeks to attract swimmers to distance events.

Phelps isn't typical of Olympic athletes. The U.S. bonus system, which will cost the committee $1.7 million if American athletes match Sydney's medal haul, is a reward for the regular competitor who struggles to make ends meet, Condron said.

``Very few are getting rich,'' he said. National Basketball Association all-star ``Shaquille O'Neal is not representative of the guy on the judo team. Most of our athletes are like the guy on the judo team.''

Iraqi Offer

Many who dangle financial carrots in front of athletes know they probably won't have to pay. Singapore, with a team of 16 athletes, has just one medal in Olympic history, a silver in weightlifting at the 1960 Games in Rome.

Iraqi officials have pledged $15,000 to $25,000 for each medal. Six months after the IOC reinstated Iraq's Olympic Committee, the group will need sponsorships to meet the pledge if one of its 30 athletes -- 22 on the soccer team -- wins the second Olympic medal in the country's history, spokesman Mark Clark said.

``We are very realistic about our expectations,'' Clark said in an interview in Athens. ``But if the football team were to get a bronze, it would be a financial situation.''

Top-ranked tennis player Roger Federer, who has won $3.7 million in prize money this year, will receive 20,100 Swiss francs ($15,900) from Swiss Olympic officials if he adds the Olympic title to his Wimbledon and Australian Open crowns. Paula Radcliffe of the U.K. will get nothing if she wins the marathon.

`Golden Handshake'

``It's not something we can afford,'' British Olympic Association spokesman Philip Pope, 30, said in an interview. ``Unlike most Olympic committees we don't get government funding. The money isn't there.''

Australia stopped its $A25,000 ($18,000) gold-medal bonuses after the Sydney Games because the payments were like a ``golden handshake,'' rewarding athletes for past performance rather than helping develop new talent, said Craig Phillips, support-service director for the Australian team.

``The money is better spent on preparing athletes rather than on those retiring,'' Philips said.

Finland, Norway and Fiji also shun bonuses, while Albania, Namibia and Zimbabwe offer as much as $10,000.

Paolo Bettini will receive Italy's 130,000-euro ($160,000) gold medal bonus after winning the cycling road race on Saturday, and Ukrainian swimmer Yana Klochkova netted $100,000 by winning the 400-meter individual medley for a second time.

Phelps Agent

Even after falling short of Spitz's 32-year-old record and the $1 million bonus offered by Warnaco Group Inc.'s Speedo unit, Phelps will receive performance payments from most of his sponsors, said Tim Carlisle, Phelps's manager. His sponsors include Argent Mortgage Co., AT&T; Wireless Services Inc., PowerBar Inc. and Swatch Group AG's Omega unit.

``Any type of competitive achievement should translate into some type of bonus,'' Carlisle, 36, said in an interview. He declined to specify the other incentive agreements.

Visa International Inc., the world's biggest credit-card company and another Phelps sponsor, isn't offering a bonus for the number of medals he wins, spokesman Michael Rolnick said in an interview.

``It's not about the winning,'' said Roz Barder of Visa Europe. ``It's about encouraging the Olympic spirit.''


Selected bonuses paid by national Olympic committees for a gold
medal:

Singapore $300,000
Italy $160,000
Ukraine $100,000
Indonesia $100,000
Belarus $60,000
France $40,000
Iraq $25,000
U.S. $25,000
Switzerland $16,000
Zimbabwe $10,000
Albania $10,000
Denmark $10,000
Namibia $5,000
Australia No bonus
Finland No bonus
Fiji No bonus
Great Britain No bonus



By Grant Clark
Aug 16, 2004
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