Korean figure skating champ Kim Yu-na is one of the highest paid athletes competing in the Olympic Games in Vancouver this month. According to Forbes.com on Wednesday, Kim earned US$8 million in 2009, tied for first place with U.S. snowboarding star Shaun White. Salaried professional athletes, including National Hockey League players, were not included on the list.
"Last year her triple-triple combination jumps helped her earn the titles of World Champion, Grand Prix Final Champion and Four Continents Champion, and brought her nearly $150,000 in prize money," it said. "They also helped the 19-year-old become a marketing darling in her home country, where she earned $7.5 million from sponsors like Hyundai Motor, Kookim Bank, Nike, and Procter & Gamble, to name just a few."
2006 Olympic champion White earned about the same amount with sponsorships from snowboard-maker Burton, Red Bull, Target, goggle-maker Oakley, game-maker Ubisoft and AT&T.
Two-time World Cup champion skier Lindsey Vonn, whose beautiful looks are helping to build buzz for the Winter Olympics this year, was third with $3 million, followed by fellow ski champ Ted Ligety ($2 million), and short track skater Apolo Anton Ohno ($1.5 million). Except for Kim and German skier Maria Riesch, all the top 10 earners were from the U.S.
So will the Vancouver Olympics bring its sports stars a financial windfall to add to their wealth? Forbes was pessimistic. "The recent economic downturn has made it harder to turn gold medals into cash. Already at a disadvantage compared to most of their Summer Olympic siblings whose sports are more popular and marketable... many Winter Olympian hopefuls have struggled with the loss of sponsors leading to the 2010 Vancouver games," it reported.