Olympic gold is great, but athletes say some cash to go with it is even better

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NEW YORK (AP) — They compete for a trophy, a ring, the chance to be called a champion and, sometimes, a place in history. Most of the world’s best athletes in all sorts of sports compete for cold, hard cash, too.

After more than 100 years of striving to earn Olympic gold — but nothing else from the folks organizing the event — track and field athletes at the Paris Games will join that money-making club thanks to the sport’s governing body, World Athletics.

In a first-of-its-kind development, the runners, throwers and jumpers lining up at the Stade de France in August will be trying to win a $50,000 check to go with the gold. It’s a novel — some might say overdue — concept that has athletes in other sports wondering if they can get a piece of that action.

“I mean, who would want to turn down money, you know?” said artistic swimmer Daniella Ramirez, who is a junior at UCLA.

The news last week grabbed attention, not so much because anyone is going to get rich, but because it marked the first instance of someone in charge — someone running the show — dipping into their coffers for the prizes, something the International Olympic Committee continues to resist.

That hasn’t stopped individual countries from paying medal winners across all sports for years. For instance, the U.S Olympic and Paralympic Committee runs “Project Gold,” which doles out $37,500 for gold, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze.

And this year’s host country will give France’s gold medalists around $85,000 apiece.

Those kinds of payments, along with the endorsement deals that have become commonplace for the upper-echelon sports, long ago undercut the old notion the Olympics were founded upon: That athletes should be true amateurs playing strictly for the love of sport.

That has been a relic for at least 40 years.

Not surprisingly, athletes at the Team USA media summit this week in New York followed the latest development with interest.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m jealous,” said diver Andrew Capobianco, a silver medalist three years ago in Tokyo. “But I’m hopeful that, kind of, can move into all other sports, as well — that they’re the trailblazers for that. More money for Olympic athletes, especially the smaller sports, would be great.”

When he made the announcement, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe portrayed the move as one of simple fairness — the Olympics are a multibillion-dollar business; the athletes should get their share.

Sprinter Gabby Thomas said she appreciated the gesture.

“This is really just done off of hopes and dreams and effort and a lot of people don’t have the same opportunity,” Thomas said of the mission to compete at the Olympics. “So, to see track and field making a difference in that way is remarkable. I can’t wait to see other sports follow suit.”

But some in Coe’s world saw the announcement as a calculated play to boost his profile for a potential IOC presidency bid. Others said they were blindsided by the move.

“If we concentrate the money on only top athletes, only gold (medalists), then of course a lot of opportunities will disappear for athletes all over the world,” said David Lappartient, the president of cycling’s international federation, who attended the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia on Tuesday.

Jean-Christophe Rolland, president of World Rowing, said any available funds should instead be spent on developing and promoting Olympic sports.

“Obviously, we need the athletes,” he said. “But we also need to ensure that we will have athletes tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.”

Of course, no one needs to tell the people who will be vying for medals this summer that their Olympic journey is not necessarily a path to riches.

“Regardless if there’s money involved or not, I’m not too concerned,” said sailing’s Hans Henken. “But I think it is great for growing the sport and being able to provide some sort of funding to help athletes continue to train and continue to compete.”

There are those like Ramirez, the artistic swimmer, who say that while a little something extra in the wallet is never a bad thing, they’re fine with keeping cash out of the equation.

Striving for a medal is enough.

“Using (money) as a motivating factor was not something that I personally want to see in my own (life),” she said. “I just don’t think it should be something that’s in my mind at all. It should be a plus — like a bonus at the end of the year. … I just love the sport, and I think that’s my motivating factor.”

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AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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