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Gabby Douglas, Ryan Lochte: Why Families of America’s Olympics Athletes Are Broke
Daily Beast ^ | 08/07/2012 | Kevin Fallon

Posted on 08/07/2012 5:51:59 PM PDT by SeekAndFind

Gabby Douglas is America’s newest sweetheart. She’s also its newest millionaire. Her mother, however, is broke.

The 16-year-old gymnast, who became the first black gymnast to win the all-around competition last week in London, stands to make between $1 million and $3 million a year in endorsements, and has already agreed to plaster her infectious smile on the Kellogg’s corn flakes box. Douglas’s forthcoming gold-medal payday makes a new revelation about her family all the more shocking.

Natalie Hawkins, Douglas’s mother, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year in Virginia, court documents show. The Chapter 13 filing reveals roughly $80,000 in debts, and will allow her to reorganize her finances to pay down the total over several years. Hawkins, who went on long-term medical disability in 2009, reported a six-month stretch in which the single mother of four had little to no income.

The news comes the day after TMZ broke the story that Ryan Lochte’s parents are facing foreclosure on their Florida home. CitiMortgage is suing the Lochtes, claiming that they stopped making mortgage payments in February 2011. As with Douglas, Lochte, who won five medals in London, is primed for a slew of endorsement deals that couldn’t be better timed for his family.

Both athletes are—at this moment, at least—national heroes and beacons of American patriotism. But the financial strain their years of training put on their families indicates that investing in a future Olympian may not always be a financially sound decision. How did these families get so broke?

Parents of gymnasts, for one, can expect to fork over upward of $1,000 a month to training facilities to get their child in Olympic shape. Travel costs force that total to skyrocket. Leotards and warm-up suits can run $300 to $500 for a complete set. There are entry fees for each meet and competition. When a gymnast is chosen for the U.S. national team and begins traveling internationally, USA Gymnastics begins picking up the cost of training and travel for the gymnast and his or her coach, but any family member who jet-sets with them does so on his or her own dime.

Of course, only gymnasts training at what’s called the “elite” level rack up that kind of bill. Then again, the most promising athletes begin training at that level when they’re 12 or 13 years old, says Karla Grimes, the general manager at the Gage Center training facility in Missouri. That means six years, at least, of 30-hour gym days and, at Gage, $600-a-month training costs.

Eye-popping expenses are par for the course for nearly every Olympic sport. Membership costs at an elite swim club can run $1,500 to $3,000 annually, says Tom Himes, who coached a young Michael Phelps at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Equipment can cost $500 each year. Those slick Speedo Fastskin3 swim trunks Phelps wears? They retail for $395.

For families, there’s the cost of travel and tickets to the events. Ahead of the London Games, Eddie Adams, father of Olympic swimmer Camille Adams, predicted, “It's probably going to be around $15,000 to $20,000 for me, my ex-wife, Camille's twin, my sister, and my sister-in-law to go.” And let’s not forget the grocery bill for those rumored 12,000-calorie, Olympic-size feasts.

Even the more obscure sports—the ones whose stars won’t end up on a corn flakes box or the cover of Vogue—can be prohibitively costly. The annual price of training for Maya Lawrence, an Olympic fencer, is estimated to be $20,000. “It did affect my parents,” she says. “Once I decided I wanted to go to competitions, they really supported me.” Teodor Gheorghe, COO of USA Table Tennis, estimates that top-level players shell out $15,000 for each of the six to eight years it takes to perfect their games; a good paddle alone costs $300.

And with athletes devoting essentially their whole lives to training, there’s typically no room for side jobs or normal careers. While some competitors snag sponsorship deals to offset the lack of steady income, others, like weightlifter Sarah Robles, barely scrape by. The 23-year-old first-time Olympian lived on just $400 a month—her stipend from U.S.A. weightlifting—as she trained full-time for the London Games.

All of that may seem worth it for a shot at the medal stand; in addition to high-profile endorsement opportunities, a gold medal comes with a $25,000 cash prize. Each member of the “Fab Five” gymnastics team that took home the gold medal in London will make a base salary of $100,000 for participation in the 40-city Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions that will run from September to November.

But not every American athlete enduring the outsize cost of Olympic training actually makes to it the Games. The Gage Center, for example, trained gymnast Sarah Finnegan, who went to London as an alternate for the 2012 U.S. team, as well as Courtney McCool and Terin Humphrey, who were on the 2008 Olympic team. But Grimes estimates that there are roughly 20 girls at Gage training at elite levels, and writing those accompanying checks. For most of them, the Olympics aren’t even in the realm of possibility. So what’s the motivation?

“If there’s no gold medal, there’s a college scholarship,” says Grimes. “There’s some monetary value there.” It makes the financial struggles during those years of training worth it. “I liken it to paying for college early.”

Take the case of Bridget Sloan, who was a member of the silver-medal U.S. women’s gymnastics team in 2008, when she was 16. She was 10 when she started the elite program, with the initial goal of being a college—not an Olympic—athlete. “I figured if I kept with the elite program, I would get an elite scholarship,” she says. It wasn’t until five years later, when she made her first world team, that a trip to the Beijing Games even emerged as a possibility. Still, following her 2008 Olympic journey, Sloan, unlike teammates Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, rejected endorsement deals and retained her amateur status in order to retain NCAA eligibility. She was only a sophomore in high school at the time, and still had dreams of competing in college.

Sloan is heading to the University of Florida as a freshman in the fall, after having taken a year off to train for the 2012 Olympic trials. (She injured herself just prior to the competition.) She received a full scholarship, proof she says, that the years of expensive training were worth it. “I hope [other] families realize that and don’t think they wasted money on leotards and scrunchies.”

The burden placed on American athletes, whose families must foot the bill themselves for more than a decade of expensive training, is in stark contrast to that of the world’s other Olympic powerhouse. China, the only country topping the U.S. in the medal count, boasts a government-backed national sports program, churning out gold medalists with dizzying success over the past two decades—all on the government’s dime.

As the financial struggles of the Lochte and Douglas clans make headlines, one can’t help but wonder if the U.S. should follow suit and pony up the cash for the training of its own Olympic stars. But there’s the questionable zeal with which China trains its athletes—taking them away from their homes at a young age and placing them in training facilities for arduous daily workouts—which makes the idea much less appealing.

Take the case of diver Wu Minxia, who won gold for China in the 3m synchronized springboard event. Her post-victory euphoria was promptly wrecked when her parents finally revealed to her that her grandparents died the year before and her mother battled—and defeated—breast cancer. “It was essential to her this white lie,” Wu’s father told the Shanghai Morning Post, explaining that he didn’t want the bad news to derail his daughter’s diving career. Is there a possibility that a U.S. government-backed sports program could foster the same, possibly abusive excess?

While most sports’ national organizations cover the training and travel costs for an athlete once they make the national team, some say that’s not enough. NBA star and former Team USA member Dwyane Wade caused a stir last spring when he suggested that athletes (specifically, NBA players) should be paid to participate in the Olympics. Such a practice would be more valuable to athletes like Sarah Robles than a multimillion-dollar NBA supernova like Wade. For those struggling Olympians, a substantial paycheck would be a godsend.

But it’s unlikely ever to happen. National organizations are already struggling to support their athletes. As the economy falters, costs of competition rise and sponsorships dwindle. Many sports are bleeding money, and it’s affecting their Olympic presence. U.S. Ski and Snowboard was forced to institute pay cuts across the board for its staff, and introduce layoffs just prior to the 2010 Olympics. It considered requiring its athletes to pay more of their expenses. The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton organization found itself tightening its belt and sending only one men’s bobsled team, instead of two, to European competitions that year as well.

As the startling news of the Douglas and Lochte family financial woes stun sports fans, the idea of paying Olympic athletes—or at least giving some sort of monetary respite to their families—is a nice one, but it’s not plausible. Besides, says Mike Lopresti at USA Today, what these athletes and their families are getting from the Olympic experience is already immeasurable compensation.

“The Olympics are where a moment on the medal stand, representing 300 million people, is beyond price,” he says. “Opportunity is the treasure that is offered at the Olympics. The chance to hold up a championship, not to a happy owner or satisfied season-ticket base, but a country. The chance to lean over and have someone slip a gold medal over your head. For many it will be the most cherished day of their sporting lives. That's not enough for someone? Then why be there?”

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Society; Sports
KEYWORDS: 2012olympics; athletes; bankruptcy; gabbydouglas; olympics; ryanlochte
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To: crosshairs
Someone help me out - the Fab 5 get 100,000 and each also gets 25,000 for their gold medals - AND endorsements. Lochte will make 200,000 this month, Phelps 1,000,000 - those are BIG nubmers, on top of that we have an Olympic committee that has training centers for the top people and the winners of events leading to the opmypics earn thousand too. Anyone think the folks on the "beach volleyball" circuit don't earn 100K a year plus endorsements?

My neighbors have kids in these pay to play soccer and volleyball leagues called "select" the fees are 2k a year+++. They hope the kids get a free ride in a college - end of story.

21 posted on 08/07/2012 6:53:43 PM PDT by q_an_a (the more laws the less justice)
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To: Veggie Todd

Gabby’s mom filed for Chapter 13 in which her debts were reorganized. She is paying the debt off.

Gabby was a star in her gym in Va Beach from an early age. USA Gymnastics has a program in place that identifies potential elite gymnasts at an early age. Gabby was identified by the time she was 8. She has been going to training camps every year since then along with a bunch of other gymnasts from her original gym. It is very expensive. That gym has had other gymnasts make the national team though none have made an Olympic team. They all earned college scholarships though. Some of them have NCAA championship rings. (one of them has 4 rings from being on the UGA team with Courtney Kupets. they were impressive and had a great time.)

Investing in Gabby’s training paid off. It could have easily been disastrous, and we would never have heard about it. It took a lot of faith, patience, sacrifice, and hard work to make it happen. God has blessed Gabby Douglas, and I hope she will continue to share her faith!

22 posted on 08/07/2012 7:09:53 PM PDT by petitfour
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To: suthener

Amen What can a person do that is not a gamble?

23 posted on 08/07/2012 7:13:23 PM PDT by Big Horn (Rebuild the GOP to a conservative party)
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To: MayflowerMadam

Do you know if Gabby plays the piano? I do not. But I would not be surprised though she has spent most of her days for the last 8 years in a gym training and being homeschooled. Homeschooled in the gymnastics world does not necessarily mean that a gymnast is taught in the home. A lot of gyms have school right there at the gym. A lot of elite gymnasts take correspondence courses but call it homeschooling.

I’m a big college gymnastics fan and have watched a lot of gymnasts earn degrees in many disciplines. The key word there is discipline. They make excellent college students due to their need to overachieve. I’m a Bama gymnastics fan, but I have followed the careers of a lot of UGA and Florida gymnasts. College gymnastics appears to be a lot of fun for these girls who have spent so many years training to be on the US team. All of these schools promote gymnastics.

I can’t think of any pianists from Bama, but it’s not exactly a music school. I can name a whole lot of gymnasts from UCLA to Utah to UGA to UArkansas and a few schools in between. I know a lot of football fans who can name SEC gymnasts off the tops of their heads. It’s kind of bizarre, but the SEC is a little crazy about sports.

24 posted on 08/07/2012 7:28:41 PM PDT by petitfour
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To: q_an_a
Lochte will make 200,000 this month

He can hawk a line of pool cleaners.
25 posted on 08/07/2012 7:37:12 PM PDT by Thrownatbirth (.....Iraq Invasion fan since '91.)
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To: Twink

Take your grammar issues elsewhere. Or call Google. It was their auto correct that used the wrong “hole”. When I post from my phone things like that happen. Most times I catch it. Sometimes I don’t.

I have no problem with her winning all that money. I have no problem with her paying the bills of her parents.

I simply said. If I had come in to some money, and my parents had that kind of problem with money. I’d pay the bill for them.

26 posted on 08/07/2012 7:37:20 PM PDT by cableguymn (For the first time in my life. I fear my country's government.)
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To: q_an_a

Then there is the other side of this.

A child of 7 has the unique ability to hit with a puck any spot in the net you tell him to hit. A coach watches him from the stands, comes down and asks how well he skates. The following week the kid has a private skating teacher at 75 bucks an hour, a spot on a travel hockey team for 3,000 bucks and 1,000 dollars in gear with a 500 dollar pair of skates. With this the coach says he hasn’t seen a kid play like this in years. He has a chance.

Move forward 7 years. 20,000 in league fees, 30,000 in skating lessons, another 10,000 in camps, and 20,000 in travel expenses and the kid is very good, but not going to the Olympics. The kid can pin point his shots from the blue line, thread passes, stick handle like a pro and sees the ice better then kids playing college D1 hockey. Only problem, the kid skates like his feet are encased in concrete.

Every year the coaches said he would grow into his feet, that he needs to mature and when he figures it out he will play pro.

Kid is now 16. He is a referee, he travels around North America with hockey camps, teaching hockey. All the kids try to be him and the parents adore him. When he is at the rink, parents come up to him and pay him to teach their kids. He still plays, but at the lowest level.

The day I took him to the airport to see him off to another camp and month away from home, he looked at me and simply said thank you Dad, I love you.

Was worth every penny.

27 posted on 08/07/2012 7:39:49 PM PDT by EQAndyBuzz (ABO 2012)
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To: EQAndyBuzz

good for you - he grew into a man, you gave him all he could ask for and more. Family like that rare. Bless your hosuehold and the one he builds.

28 posted on 08/07/2012 7:44:16 PM PDT by q_an_a (the more laws the less justice)
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To: SeekAndFind

#1 - Pick a realistic dream. One out of a million end up a gold medalist or a highly paid professional athlete. The rest end up injured, washed out, teaching gym, or doing gay porn.

#2 - The dream of birthing a truly gifted athlete and ending up on easy street is better described as a nightmare. I cannot tell you how many parents have wasted TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars trying to will their child into athletic success. If they had spent that same money, that same time teaching and nurturing their kid’s academics as they spent driving/watching/cheering sports, there kid would be 1000% more likely to succeed.

If you want to waste your time and money trying to push your kid down a 1 in a million path to olympic gold or pro-sports riches, that’s fine, that’s your choice, but honestly don’t come crying about it later.

My child can read
My child can jump

Pick your CD series carefully

29 posted on 08/07/2012 7:48:25 PM PDT by Bronco_Buster_FweetHyagh (I cling to guns and religion.)
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To: Eaker
Thirty hour days are expensive.

and long and time-consuming. Whew!

30 posted on 08/07/2012 7:54:26 PM PDT by Uncle Chip
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To: EQAndyBuzz

Great story pops! We give what we have and hope it pays later, but when we look back...We had a ball and wouldn’t change a thing!

That’s why we call it living...Not dieing!

31 posted on 08/07/2012 8:25:00 PM PDT by Randy Larsen (Damned if I do, Damned if I don't. Damn it, I will!)
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To: Psycho_Bunny

If playing games reaches the point that government needs to step in and provide funding, then it’s time to pull the plug.

We can’t afford it.

Maybe if Obama stopped funneling billions into Muslim countries for jihad....

32 posted on 08/07/2012 8:55:05 PM PDT by patriot08 (TEXAS GAL- born and bred and proud of it!)
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To: Twink

In my mind, it’s “ignorant” to put a family’s financial security in jeopardy in order to pamper a kid. It’s cool what she has achieved, and she’s adorable, but the family couldn’t afford it. At least the medals will be lucrative for the family, and maybe they’ll find someone who can show them how to handle money.

As for the talent for God’s use... My husband knew a girl who was a “worship fairy” flitting around church services in a diaphanous gown. That might be be a good fit for someone with gymnastic talents.

33 posted on 08/08/2012 4:11:15 AM PDT by MayflowerMadam
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To: Veggie Todd

Mom’s bankruptcy is a Chapter 13 at least. She will pay everybody, just on a revised sked.

34 posted on 08/08/2012 4:44:55 AM PDT by jimfree (In Nov 2012 my 12 y/o granddaughter will have more relevant executive experience than Barack Obama)
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