Red Gerard struck gold, but the Olympics won't make him rich

The tension in those final moments, when there was no more flipping or twisting or grabbing or jumping but waiting – just waiting – was palpable. Red Gerard was guaranteed a silver medal in the men’s slopestyle, which was already far more than anybody would have expected of the 17-year-old from Colorado. Yet how sweet would it be if the judges gave Canadian Max Parrot, a five-time X Games gold medalist, a score lower than Gerard’s 87.16?

And then it happened: Parrot was awarded an 86. Gerard – 5-foot-5, 115-pound Red Gerard – was the first American gold medalist of the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang. And now he will be many things – overnight celebrity, gold medalist, snowboarding favorite for years to come – but if there is one thing he will not be, it is this: rich.

Red Gerard’s gold medal captivated America, but it isn’t going to set him for life, financially.
Red Gerard’s gold medal captivated America, but it isn’t going to set him for life, financially.

Olympic athletes compete for their country. For the red, white and blue, in this case. To hear their national anthem as they stand atop the podium. For pride and their families and hometowns. And, of course, the gold medal – or silver or bronze – that Gerard will return to the States with.

Those medals, and particularly their monetary worth, remain a quadrennial piece of interest: How much money do the athletes make when they win an Olympic medal?

There is no tangible measurement of pride, but a medal can be easily valued, and it is rarely as much as the American public might expect. At the PyeongChang Games this month, the United States Olympic Committee will award $37,500 per gold medal, $22,500 for silvers, and $15,000 for bronze. It is not much, particularly when considering some athletes – many, actually – will compete in just one event, for which they have prepared on a full-time basis for four years.

Four years of practice? For a potential $37,500?

It’s actually an improvement. In 2016, a gold medalist in Rio de Janeiro took home $25,000, a silver medalist $15,000 and a bronze $10,000 – and on top of that, those winnings, at the time, were taxed. Shortly after the Rio Games, though, congress passed legislation to abolish what was referred to as the “victory tax,” and then-President Barack Obama signed the law into effect that October.

The higher-profile Olympians – Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, others of that ilk – draw in much of their income from endorsement deals and sponsorships, and the law does not exempt those earning more than $1 million annually. But the vast majority of Olympians – think curlers, for example, or, really, anybody not named White or Vonn in this year’s Olympics – do not earn more than $1 million, and this year, their winnings will be tax free.

Even without the taxes, the U.S. pales in comparison to a number of countries in terms of payout. Singapore famously paid Joseph Schooling, a 21-year-old swimmer during the 2016 Olympics, the U.S. equivalent of $750,000 when he stunned Phelps in winning gold with an Olympic-record time in the 100 butterfly.

Italy awarded roughly $170,000 per gold medal to its athletes, while Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Malaysia divvied out $250,000. Brazil, which hosted the 2016 Games, gave out $11,000, no matter the color of the medal.

Then there are the exceptions, like Britain and Sweden, who didn’t pay their athletes a dime for a medal. The money, though, isn’t what they’re competing for. That’s what almost every athlete will say in interviews and on social media, and for the most part, that’s likely true.

But a little extra cash to go with the gold doesn’t hurt.

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