Much has been said about the Sochi Games being the most expensive Olympic Games ever and how no cost was spared to bring the spectacular event to this subtropical Russian beach resort. But few ever pay attention to the dollars and cents each competitor needs to invest to keep the flames of the Olympic dream burning.
Perhaps, because superstar athletes like Shaun White or Kim Yu Na are reportedly earning tens of millions of dollars each year in endorsements, people tend to forget that very few reach this pinnacle of financial success. For every millionaire athlete there are thousands of others who scrimp, save, beg, and borrow for the funds needed to buy equipment, hire coaching staff, pay for facilities, and travel.
For many sports that depend heavily on the right weather conditions, training for the Olympics is pretty much like chasing winter. For example, while waiting for conditions of the American mountains to be just right for training, the top US Alpine skiers and snowboarders often chase winter around the globe, spending summers in New Zealand and early fall in Chile.
When asked about the single greatest expense a winter athlete has to shell out, most would answer “travel” without batting an eyelash. Aside from weather, winter sports facilities are not as available as they are for summer sports. Tracks for bobsled racing or luge, for example, can only be found in cities that have once hosted events for these sports. Even ice skating rinks which are now commonly found even in tropical countries can be prohibitive.
This was what Michael Christian Martinez, the Philippines’ lone representative to the Sochi Winter Games, faced while working to achieve his dream of being a Winter Olympian. The rink rental rates in the Philippines (much cheaper than in most other countries) is roughly $10 dollars for a whole day of unlimited use. And that’s for recreational skaters who have to share the rink with a horde of other newbies. $10 is more than daily minimum wage in this country.
Because he loved the sport and persevered despite the financial obstacles, Michael eventually qualified for the Sochi Olympics. However, in a sport judged for technical excellence by a panel of experts, there is no such thing as self-taught athletes. The best coaches, trainers, and choreographers are essential to succeeding at the highest level. And they don’t come cheap. To prepare for his journey to Sochi, Michael had to hire a Russian coach and stay in Russia for a month prior to the games to hone his craft. Again, more expenses and greater burden on his family’s finances which were already stretched to the limit.
He did get some assistance from the Philippine Olympic Committee and a grant from SM Prime Holdings, operator of the malls that house the country’s skating rinks. Still, the going was always tough for Michael as it is for many other athletes that are waiting to break into the elite level.
The story of the Jamaican 2-man bobsled team, like the 4-man team before it that competed at the Calgary Games in 1988, has a brighter side to it. The Calgary team created quite a stir when the team from a tropical country, which practiced in dry dusty conditions, actually made it to the Olympics. The movie Cool Runnings, inspired by that experience, was a blockbuster.
This time around, the Jamaican contingent to Sochi took to social media to ask for help. They needed $80,000 to fund their trip to Sochi. On Reddit and the crowdsourcing platform CrowdTilt, their plea generated a wave of support and within hours of the launch they had exceeded their funding target.
Fortunately for American athletes, there are organizations like the Level Field Fund, which “strives to bridge gaps in funding for uniquely talented athletes, following the belief that opportunities to pursue excellence in sport should not be limited by an athlete’s financial situation.” It was founded by snowboarding star Ross Powers, who grew up in a single-parent household and knows the financial difficulties an aspiring athlete must overcome to keep the Olympics dream alive.
The ticket to ride the Winter Games express train is rough on the pocket, and when you reach your destination, you might come home empty-handed. For many, getting there is its own reward. For the lucky few, the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow awaits. If you had the chance, would you pay the price?
Stay tuned for more Sochi success stories with this great Sochi schedules and results calendar!
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