Olympian priorities: Gold or green?

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    Jamie laces up for a workout.

    - Vigeland

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    Monday morning at the office.

    - Vigeland

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    Jamie warms up with some jumps in the 6-and-a-half-foot range.

    - Vigeland

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    Jamie will be hoping to make it look this easy in London.

    - Vigeland

We all know the games are about competition, athletic achievement, adversity overcome, life goals attained. But it's also about whether you'll capture enough attention to turn gold medals into gold coin -- or at least enough coin to defray the upfront costs of all that effort.

Tess Vigeland visited the U.S. Olympics Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. We talked to high jumper Jamie Nieto about what sacrifices he's had to make to chase his gold medal dreams.

Take a listen to the audio above for Nieto's frank insight on the finances of being an elite athlete.

PS: So how'd he do at the trials? Well, at the ripe age of 35, he became the oldest man to qualify for the Olympic high jump team, clearing seven feet, five and three-quarter inches. First place. So keep an eye out for him when the track and field events begin on Aug. 3.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.
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The Olympic Movement encompasses a large number of national and international sporting organizations and federations, recognized media partners, as well as athletes, officials, judges, and every other person and institution that agrees to abide by the rules of the Olympic Charter. Thanks.

I am sorely disappointed in these comments calling Mr. Nieto whinny. He is doing his best to represent his country with little to show for it. Russia and China support their athletes and allow them to train full time. Why can't the US support this the same way. Oh, yeah, we are too busy spending money invading other countries looking for weapons of mass distraction. We could probably support 5000 athletes for what we waste in Iraq and Afghanistan in a day.

I do not agree that Mr. Nieto is whiny and ungrateful. He is lucky and he does acknowledge this in the interview. To those of us who are less blessed with exceptional talent than he, perhaps it's surprising that the dream and achievement itself is not enough and he actually wants to earn enough money to feed his family. But why shouldn't he? He works incredibly hard and, as he stated, track and field Olympians are professionals, not amateurs. Many Americans find it acceptable that drug-addled celebrities earn millions, while those who serve us and/or represent us (military, police, teachers, and--yes, in a different way--Olympians) struggle. I appreciate that Marketplace Money shared Mr. Nieto's perspective with us and provided a voice to Olympians who share his concerns. And I appreciate that Mr. Nieto is representing us in the games.

I am a long time listener to Marketplace, and for the first time felt compelled to respond to a piece you ran.

I feel Mr. Nieto's comments were extremely self centered and whiny. Nobody told him to be a high jumper, rather than a running back. None of us is entitled to anything. Our market value determines what (if anything) we are worth. Period. Deal with it, Mr. Nieto.

There are many sports that are not included at all in the Olympics. Devotees of those sports have NO support from Nike or other companies, no Olympic training centers, and no subsidized national competitions. He is fortunate to have the support he has had.

Is it whining to say that while the US has bragging rights if he wins, he gets nothing for his effort? Olympic hopefuls deserve some support from this country to make a decent living while representing the US. JFK3531 needs to get off his or her high horse. Sheesh.

I have never commented before but I have to agree with the other people. Really, Mr. Nieto? Most people struggle. Comparing yourself with EXCEPTIONAL professional football and baseball players is delusional. I was offended by this whole conversation. Come on, Tess.

I think the comments made by Mr. Nieto were soooo ungrateful. I'm sure someone else would be more than happy to receive the "small annual stipend of $15,000 from Nike." A "slap in the face".... you've got to be kidding me! How many people are working a 40 hour day job and pursing their dreams on weekends and evenings? No one owes you anything.

I just listened to this article on my local KPBS station. This athlete does not have the Olympic spirit. What happened to Olympic athletes not being Professional Athletes?
Anyone who goes into business is taking a chance - just as this athlete (Jamie) is taking a chance in his chosen business.
Remember Pet Rocks? That was not a lifelong success either.
The Olympic athlete can always fall back on coaching, sports instruction, PE teacher, etc.. which is at least within their chosen field.
I do not feel sorry for this guy at all.

Perhaps another athlete would have been a better choice to speak for paying Olympic Athletes? Agree or disagree with the concept of paying them, Nieto does nothing to make a serious argument (or a good story). His "woe is me" spiel about the sacrifices he CHOOSES to make to be an elite athlete certainly didn't move me, and I can't imagine it will move many. There are so many people in this country now that make the same sacrifices -- and more -- every day out of necessity. Many would love to have an option of making them.


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