Not surprisingly, no Canadians figure among the top Olympic earners

Eight Americans make it onto Forbes magazine's rich list

As the 2010 Olympics get underway, the world prepares to witness feats of breathtaking accomplishment. Not for nothing is the Olympic motto “Faster, higher, stronger.” Add to that, richer. Leveraging its popular rich lists, Forbes magazine’s bean counters have tallied a year’s worth of financial winnings for athletes at the Vancouver games, and published a list of the top Olympic earners. Not all that surprisingly, there’s not a Canadian among the lot.

To be fair the magazine only ran the numbers for the top ten earners, but the dollar figures are beyond anything most Canadian athletes—save for our professional hockey players, who are automatically excluded from the count—can ever hope to see. Consider this: At US$27.8 million the total windfall from prize money, endorsements, licensing income and bonuses these athletes pulled down in 2009 alone is one-quarter of Canada’s five-year Own the Podium budget.

It’s no surprise that high-flying American snowboarder Shaun White tops the list, thanks to his sponsorship deals with Red Bull, Target and Oakley. He earned US$8 million last year. Like many multi-national businesses, White is also in the process of a rebranding campaign. Dubbed the Flying Tomato for his flowing red locks, White told reporters at a press conference yesterday he is now to be known as Shaun “The Animal” White, after the similarly coiffed drummer of Muppets fame.

Most of the rest of the top 10 are Americans. In fact the only other countries represented are South Korea, through figure skater Kim Yu-Na (US$8 million) and German alpine skier Maria Riesch (US$1 million).

The dominance of Americans is no doubt largely the result of their keen mix of sport and entrepreneurialism. Most of the biggest names at the Games have done an excellent job of marketing themselves and their side-businesses. Snowboarder Hannah Teter (US$1 million), the 2006 half pipe gold medalist, used yesterday’s press conference to reiterate her intention to donate all her victory winnings to the victims of Haiti. She also promoted her Hannah’s Gold maple syrup and a new lingerie line called Sweet Cheeks Panties, with some of the proceeds from both going to charity.

Incidentally, during the same press conference a reporter asked the female athletes whether their cohorts in other Olympic sports look down on snowboarders while they walk through the village. If any other athletes are looking down, it’s only because they’re trying to spot the bulge of money in the American snowboarders’ pockets.