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Gymnastics - Artistic - Olympics: Day 11

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Until the late 1980s, the Olympics were not open to professional (read: paid) athletes. 1955, then-IOC president Avery Brundage said, “We can only rely on the support of those who believe in the principles of fair play and sportsmanship embodied in the amateur code in our efforts to prevent the Games from being used by individuals, organizations, or nations for ulterior motives.”

But once the Olympic committee noticed how much cash was being left on the table, that restriction changed. But does it actually pay to be an Olympic athlete? Well, it depends on what country you represent- and for all but one sport.

If you play for Singapore, then medaling with gold or silver can earn the highest payouts with $737K or $369K, respectively., according to CNBC. And former Soviet republic Kazakhstan comes in at a distant but respectable No. 2, paying it’s gold and silver medalists $250K and $150K if they make it to the podium. What about if you compete for Uncle Sam, though? How much do U.S. Olympic athletes receive if they medal? It turns out America is only the ninth-highest paying country, where gold and silver medalists get $37.5K and $22.5K.

So why, after numerous years of enduring grueling workouts, long practices, and cutthroat competitions do Americans receive markedly less for a similar chance to beam with the pride of representing their country on the international stage? One interesting factor is the country weighs the odds of its athletes even making it to the podium: as attractive as the numbers may be for a Singaporean athlete, not one yet has even nabbed a bronze medal in any sport (which would earn that Olympian $184K, a shade under five times what a U.S. gold medalist would get).

Furthermore, a country’s infrastructure means what an athlete does not receive in cash may be paid back via various intangibles: health insurance, opportunities to monetize one’s celebrity, relatively stable standards of living back home, etc.

There is one Olympics sport, however, in which the professionals are not allowed to participate: wrestling. And so for every Kurt Angle, there are thousands of Rulon Gardners.

Take a look at the top 12 countries that pay their athletes for nabbing a medal: