How Can Olympic Athletes Find a Real Job?

One opportunity for ex-Olympians is the speaking circuit, where they can earn thousands of dollars a pop for motivational speeches or meet-and-greet sessions with the public. Bill Yardley, event consultant for Barber & Associates, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based firm that finds speakers for events, says athletes can earn anywhere from $2,000 to $80,000 per speech or public appearance.

But for these positions, only the high profile need apply. Barber's roster of Olympian speakers includes such luminaries as gold medal decathlon legend Bruce Jenner, track and field gold medalist Jackie-Joyner-Kersee and captain of the 1980 "miracle on ice" hockey team Mike Eruzione.

Athletes who have overcome adversity are also good candidates for the motivational speaking circuit, notes David Schwab, director of strategic marketing and media for sports marketing firm Octagon in McLean, Va. Schwab says snowboarding bronze medalist and Octagon client Chris Klug, who received an organ transplant to combat a degenerative liver disease to compete in the Games, is one example.

"In America it's difficult to turn a bronze into gold, but Chris will be able to do it," predicts Schwab.

Still, the fickle nature of celebrity means that if any of these athletes are going to capitalize on their fame, they'd better do it fast. Many of these names will be long forgotten a year from now, so any opportunity for endorsements or speaking engagements will be fleeting for most, says Schwab.

Athlete and a Scholar

While most Olympians probably won't go the way of Olga Korbut, the four-time gold medalist in the 1972 Munich Games who was recently arrested on charges that she shoplifted $19 worth of groceries, the harsh reality suggests that Olympic athletes should not only keep up their education, but perhaps even stick with their day jobs as well.

One company that supports working athletes is Home Depot. The retailer's role in the U.S. Olympic Committee's Olympic Job Opportunities Program got the spotlight during this year's Games with speed skater Derek Parra's newfound gold medal fame. The program pays a full-time salary and benefits to Olympic hopefuls like Parra for working a flexible 20-hour work week which gives them time them to train and travel to competitions.

The home improvement retailer has employed 283 athletes since it started the program in 1992. While most athletes stay in the program while they're competing, only about a dozen athletes who have finished their Olympic careers continue to work for the company.

"We'd like to see more of them make Home Depot the choice for their career," says Home Depot spokesperson Mandy Holton.

Others are hoping that Sarah Hughes, who has quipped that her next goal is to gain a near-perfect score on her SATs, will be the role model for Olympic athletes to come.

"In Olympic sports, you're lucky to make it to one Olympics. What do you after that, how do you want to represent yourself and your family and your country for the rest of your life?" asks Paul. "That's the big question you have to answer."

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