London 2012 Olympics: Russian athletes in race for multi-million dollar riches

Russian athletes who win gold medals at this summer’s London Olympics will be in line for million-dollar cash bonuses paid for by some of the country’s wealthiest oligarchs as the country battles to repel the threat of Great Britain and hold on to at least third place in the medals table.
Russia’s status as an Olympic superpower was thrown into question at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when they won just 23 gold medals — well below China (51) and the United States (36) and just four more than fourth-placed Britain.
It was the country’s lowest total since the break-up of the Soviet Union and has raised the possibility that, with home advantage, Team GB could even overtake them this summer.
But Russian officials are hoping that increased investment in Olympic sports in the last two years and a huge bonus fund for successful athletes will help restore the team’s fortunes in London.
On a visit to the capital to announce plans for ‘Team Russia Park’ next to Kensington Gardens this summer, Akhmed Bilalov, vice-president of the Russian Olympic Committee, said generous prizes were paid to Russian medallists at the Beijing Olympics and even more cash would be on offer in London.
“It depends on the [sports] federation but at the last Olympic Games in Beijing, for example, I know the wrestling federation paid $500,000 per person for each gold medal,” he said.
“That was just from the head of the federation. Of course, they also had the presidential fund on top of that. Well-known business people give money to that fund to provide special bonuses after the Olympic Games.
“Most of the heads of federations in Russia are rich people and they have special bonuses for athletes. The special national fund provides extra financial bonuses such as cars and apartments for the athletes.”
Bilalov, a former Soviet Union wrestling champion and now a member of the Russian Parliament, said winners in London could expect to receive “at least $500,000”, and probably even double that.
He said: “We have an association of summer sports and the head of the association is the richest person in Russia, Mr [Vladimir] Lisin. I think he will promise at least the same. He has $30 billion (£20 billion), so if he gives everyone $1million, it’s not very much for him.”
By contrast, the majority of British athletes will not receive a penny for their success in London, though a few sports may offer cash prizes through their sponsors. Some athletes will also have financial incentives written into their individual sponsorship contracts.



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