By Jason Notte
Team USA will pay a hefty price for its share of the gold, silver and bronze at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but even the medals table has a bargain bin.
The U.S. Olympic Committee shelled out more than $232 million in 2008 to help American athletes win 110 medals in Beijing -- the site of the previous Summer Olympic Games. That's $2.1 million per medal, but doesn't include the cash kicked in by each sport's governing body from sponsors, donors and special events. For example, USA Basketball took a little less than $1 million from the USOC to send the men's and women's teams to China four years ago, but spent $5.8 million overall on gold-medal efforts from LeBron James, Diana Taurasi and company.
That's a lofty $2.9 million per medal, which is nearly five times what the U.S. modern pentathlon and badminton programs spent on their Olympic programs combined in 2008. The birdie smashers and five-sporters left empty handed, but any medal those programs took home would have been the steal of the games.
But the real question remains: How much can be spent on a single medal? The answer: Almost the sky's the limit, it seems. We're talking about many millions per medal.
To give Team USA fans some idea of which Olympic sports get the most -- and least -- medal for their money, we went over the financial statements and tax information of each Summer Olympic sport's governing body to see how much they spent during the 2008 games. We divided that amount by the number of medals earned and came up with America's five most resourceful Summer Olympics squads and its five biggest spenders. Here's a hint: LeBron doesn't appear in either list.
2008 Olympic medal tally: 1 silver, 2 bronze
2008 spending, based on audit: $2.78 million
Spending per medal: $926,666
The U.S. taekwondo team had a smaller budget than both its boxing ($5.25 million) and diving ($2.9 million) counterparts yet took home three times more medals in Beijing than those sports combined. Ain't that a kick?
2008 Olympic medal tally: 1 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze
2008 spending, based on audit: $5 million
Spending per medal: $833,333
The U.S. fencers spent less than half as much per medal as the U.S. gymnastic team ($1.94 million) and they wield swords. How isn't this sport more popular?
2008 Olympic medal tally: 12 gold, 9 silver, 10 bronze
2008 spending, based on audit: $21.4 million
Spending per medal: $690,322.58
It helps to have a mer-man like Michael Phelps win eight gold medals, but the U.S. team is stacked with talent to make even that high buy-in price seem like a bargain.
2008 Olympic medal tally: 2 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze
2008 spending, based on audit: $4.13 million
Spending per medal: $688,333
Not only did those medals come relatively cheap, but the two gold medals were won by guys shooting skeet and trap. Consider all those childhood hours playing Nintendo's Duck Hunt as early Olympic training.
2008 Olympic medal tally: 8 gold, 9 silver, 7 bronze
2008 spending, based on organization's financial statement: $15.63 million
Spending per medal: $651,250
There are a lot more events, participants and chances to medal than in most other sports, but USA Track and Field spending was still efficient by U.S. standards. By comparison, there are only two U.S. Olympic sports that spent less in 2008 than the $651,250 the track and field team spent per medal: modern pentathlon ($305,816) and badminton ($301,280).
5. USA Field Hockey
2008 Olympic medal tally: 0
2008 spending based on audit: $7.145 million
Spending per medal: N/A
This sport somehow manages to outspend all of USA Basketball ($5.8 million) and U.S. Rowing ($5.75 million) and nearly matches the total for USA Sailing ($7.81 million) but still can't manage a medal? It didn't even have to buy a boat or pay an NBA superstar's minibar tab for that price.
2008 Olympic medal tally: 0
2008 spending based on audit: $8.18 million
Spending per medal: N/A
That's $8 million on six competitors in a sport the United States has only won one medal in since 2000. For the price of USA Triathlon's rubber-legged, secretion-heavy events of 2008, it could have paid the 2008 tab for U.S. archery ($1 million) weightlifting ($1.35 million), kayak and canoe ($1.4 million), synchronized swimming ($1.76 million) and judo ($2.21 million). At least judo would've given it a bronze medal for its money.
2008 Olympic medal tally: 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze
2008 spending, based on audit: $27.34 million
Spending per medal: $9.11 million
As Ann Romney can attest, equestrian sports aren't cheap. Not only did USA Equestrian spend $2.5 million on drugs and medication for its animals in 2008, but the $3 million it spent on marketing was more than the U.S. diving team ($2.95 million) spent on its entire program that year.
2008 Olympic medal tally: 1 gold, 1 bronze
2008 spending, based on tax documents: $46.23 million
Spending per medal: $23.12 million
That $23.11 million also covered the US Open, Davis Cup and other events in 2008, but the United States Tennis Association lumps it in with Olympic spending and chalks it all up to athletic development. That makes the Williams sisters' gold medal in women's doubles and the Bryan brothers' bronze medal on the men's side the second costliest pieces of hardware the U.S. took through customs from Beijing.
2008 Olympic medal tally: 1 gold
2008 spending, based on tax documents: $44.1 million
Spending per medal: $44.1 million
The team sports are always a big gamble for one medal, but U.S. national soccer teams give that gold medal a whole lot more weight. USA soccer spent $1.68 million in 2008 just to help its teams qualify for the Olympics. That's more than it spent for the entire 2008 Under-20 Women's World Cup and isn't even included in the $29.2 million it spends on national team practices, friendlies, facilities, salaries and other associated costs. For its trouble, the men's squad didn't even manage a win. The women took home the gold without captain Abby Wambach, but it would take more than 1,700 pounds of gold to equal the real value of the 7-ounce medallions the U.S. women's team wore home from Beijing.
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