Rio mystery solved: Can NCAA athletes keep their Olympic medal bonuses?

Fourth-Place Medal
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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Katie Ledecky’s record-breaking exploits in Rio have made her $115,000 richer thanks to United States Olympic Committee payouts on her six Olympic medals. But, come this fall when she arrives for her freshman year at Stanford, she’ll be able to compete against amateurs just like any other NCAA athlete.

So, how is Ledecky allowed to take home a six-figure payday while other college athletes face losing their NCAA eligibility for playing laser tag or standing next to Drake?

Since 2001, NCAA by-laws have permitted incoming or current student-athletes to benefit from the USOC’s Operation Gold program, which gives bonuses to athletes for top finishes at Olympic or world championship events, without compromising their eligibility. Athletes earn $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, $10,000 for bronze and receive other yearly stipends as determined by the USOC and the individual sports’ federation.

The by-laws also extend to athletes competing for other countries, meaning that 21-year-old University of Texas student Joesph Schooling’s $753,000 payout for capturing Singapore’s first-ever gold is A-OK with the NCAA.

Because of this by-law, many top teenage Olympians, like Ledecky and Missy Franklin before her, choose to put off the pull of endorsement dollars while they chase their collegiate goals.

In other sports where athletes have a shorter shelf life, like gymnastics, athletes, such as Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez, often choose to cash in while the iron is hot.

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