In Funding America's Olympians Today, Anything Goes

PUNDITS are certain to compare the performances of today's Olympians with those of their counterparts in the '60s and '70s. But on the matter of how athletes in the United States fund their quest for the gold today versus 10 years ago, there's very little to compare.

When it comes to paying for an athlete's training - living expenses, travel, even the cost of education - today, almost anything goes. In general, two organizations determine the amount and source of money given to an Olympic athlete in the US: the US Olympic Committee (USOC) and the USOC-sanctioned governing body for each sport.

The governing bodies run their sports according to guidelines set out in the Amateur Sports Act, passed by Congress in 1978. Each governing body oversees competitions, picks an Olympic team, and authorizes sponsorships.

In figure skating, for example, the US Figure Skating Association (USFSA) and the International Figure Skating Association determine the rules by which skaters may receive money and still retain their "amateur" status. Should a skater wish to compete as an amateur in a USFSA competition (the only way a figure skater can make the US Olympic team), the skater requests that a trust fund be established in his or her name.

All money earned in sanctioned events or paid by sanctioned sponsors of the USFSA is paid directly into the trust fund, administered by the USFSA. A skater submits travel receipts, bills for lessons, rink-time charges, and other expenses to the USFSA and is reimbursed from the trust.

A second major source of funds is from corporations that pay the USOC to sponsor an Olympic sport. The USOC pays athletes according to performance, need, and such criteria as the number of participants in the sport at the Olympic level, the number of medals given in an event, the cost of shipping equipment to and from competitions (obviously more for a team than individual sports), training costs, and more.

From 1985 to 1988, about 71 percent of the USOC's budget went to athletes. From 1989 to 1992, that figure jumped to 82 percent, according to the USOC. The USOC expects to receive $298 million in revenues from 1989 through 1992. Nearly half (42 percent) will come from corporations and licensing deals, 28 percent from television, 11 percent from direct-mail solicitations, 8 percent from other fund-raising, 7 percent from the sale of Olympic coins, and 4 percent from store sales.

This is not to say that the athletes are getting rich. The average income of US athletes training for the Olympics is $12,400, says the USOC, while average expenses are $13,400 a year.

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