One of the 'biggest misconceptions the public has' about Olympians and money, according to a champion

Lauryn Williams of the USA Bobsled team poses in the Olympic Park during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on February 20, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Scott Halleran | Getty Images
Key Points
  • Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller, who won gold in the 1996 Olympics, suggests surrounding yourself with trustworthy financial experts.
  • Olympic swimmer Ryan Murphy won the gold in 2020. He stresses the importance of expecting turbulence in investing and staying the course.
  • Olympic runner and bobsledder Lauryn Miller competed in both summer and winter Olympics. Now a financial advisor, she recommends clients start an emergency fund.

Olympic athletes can make money all sorts of ways, starting with prizes for medaling. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee rewards athletes a given sum per medal: They receive $37,500 for each gold medal, $22,500 for silver, and $15,000 for bronze.

But Lauryn Williams, a three-time Olympic medalist and financial planner, told Grow that the reality is that many athletes work multiple jobs to participate: "One of the biggest misconceptions that the public has about Olympic athletes is that their fame is related to their fortune."

More than half, 58%, of athletes don't feel financially stable, according to a 2020 survey from athletes' rights group Global Athlete, which polled 491 athletes from 48 countries. Of the athletes surveyed, 31% were Olympic and 8% were Paralympic athletes.

Whether making money on the field or off, professional athletes learn valuable financial lessons from their endeavors. Here are three money tips from Williams and other medalists.

Surround yourself with 'impartial sources'

Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller won five medals in the Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics, and two gold medals at the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics. The latter was the first year the U.S. women's gymnastics team won gold.

Miller retired from the sport at 19 and got degrees in marketing and entrepreneurship, as well as a degree in law. She now does public speaking engagements through her website.

When Miller was a young athlete, she told Grow, her parents took care of all of her finances. By the time it was her turn to take the reins, she realized she didn't know where to start.

"I think young athletes should find several folks that they trust, as well as a few impartial sources, to gain a better understanding of where they want to be in the years to come," she said. "I had planned and set goals for gymnastics; I wish I'd done the same for my finances." 

When investing, expect bumps — and think long term

Champion swimmer Ryan Murph has won six Olympic medals: four golds, one silver, and one bronze between the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics and the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics which were held in 2021.

Murphy comes from a family of mathematicians and financial experts, and he started building his investment portfolio during his senior year of college. "When we get together for the family holidays, it's definitely a nerdy crowd," he previously told Grow.

Murphy's approach to investing is to think long term. "The ups and downs of the market are similar to the ups and downs in the pool," he said. "For me, I got great practices and I got terrible practices, but I keep on coming back because I feel like, overall, the average is steadily improving." 

Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy: 4 things every new investor should know

Video by Stephen Parkhurst

Build an emergency fund

Williams brought home a silver medal in the 100 meter run at the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics, a gold medal in the 4x100 meter relay in the London 2012 Summer Olympics, and a silver medal for bobsled in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

Before starting to compete professionally, Williams was a finance major at the University of Miami. "But even with my educational background, early on, I still struggled with managing my money in my new career," she previously told Grow.

I had planned and set goals for gymnastics; I wish I'd done the same for my finances.
Shannon Miller
Olympic gymnast

After retiring from sports, Williams became a certified financial planner and now offers her services through her company Worth Winning.

One crucial lesson she learned as an athlete: Build an emergency fund. Most experts recommend stowing away three to six months-worth of funds to give yourself a cushion to recover from a financial setback.

As an athlete, Williams said, if you get injured during the season, it'll be much harder to earn money from sport. "That emergency fund is going to help you be able to get healthy and get back on the right track," she said.

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