This Is How Much Money It Takes to Become an Olympic Figure Skater.
Kattie Herrington’s smoothly flowing through her routine—landing jumps and hitting her favorite technique, the layback spin—makes all of her hard work and sacrifices worthwhile. She adds that three flawless minutes on the ice during a competition will make her happy for the following two months.
This 11-year-old figure skater has Olympic aspirations. Of course, getting there will not be easy. It will require hundreds of hours of off-ice skating and training, missing a typical school schedule, mending severe injuries, and often traveling to compete against another elite talent for her.
It will take years of careful planning and a six-figure price tag for her parents.
After all, it takes gold to compete for gold.
It is true in almost every sport. Coaching costs, travel expenditures, physical treatment, and sports conditioning to keep the body running at peak performance levels add up. On the other hand, Figure skating is among the most expensive, with yearly fees exceeding $35,000 and, according to some estimates, exceeding $50,000.
“It’s a significant family sacrifice,” says Dennis Olsen, the Detroit Skate Club’s manager, and a five-time national winner and two-time Olympian,
Where the Money Is Spent
Elite figure skaters often practice six days a week for hours at a time, skating, dancing, and training to perfect a five-minute performance.
Private coaching costs range from $65 to $120 per hour for coaches who have mentored successful international athletes when a figure skater goes beyond novice levels. Today, it’s usual to practice with numerous instructors throughout the week, changing between those specializing in particular talents like spins or leaps. Figure skaters must also pay for their time on the ice, ranging between $20 and $40 per day depending on the arena and how much time they spend on the ice.
Olsen explains that choreography for a program is a separate price that often ranges between $1,500 and $5,000. While skaters may sometimes employ the same program for two years, they usually execute a different routine for short and long skate competitions each year.
Families also pay for ballet or ballroom dance classes, private gym training, and even acting courses for skaters who want to learn how to communicate specific emotions with facial expressions, according to Elise’s mother, Jasmin Herrington.
“It’s the whole package that matters,” Herrington adds. “You may land great jumps, but if you don’t perform, you’re losing half of the fun.”
Figure skaters, too, pay a premium for hand-sewn outfits that assist convey the tale of their performance. Last year, Elise skated in a Star Wars-themed performance, and Herrington spent $2,500 on a Rey-inspired company. Figure skating gowns may easily cost up to $10,000 at the highest level of competition.
Figure skates, the second important piece of equipment, are often funded by sponsorships after a skater achieves Olympic standard. On the other hand, high-quality, custom-made boots would cost between $800 and $1,000 without a sponsor. The addition of blades costs an extra $1,000. Olsen claims that ice skaters, who perform more leaps than ice dancers, might go through a few pairs of boots every year.
Travel costs add up as well. Figure skaters on the verge of breaking onto the worldwide Grand Prix circuit compete in a few home contests each year. Families pay their way to the tournament and support their coach’s travel costs and pay coaching fees while there.
Olsen believes that the last fee, which coaches use to compensate for missed payments while traveling, typically surprises families the first time they see it.
Medical Costs for Specialized Services
Then there’s the matter of healthcare expenses. Figure skaters work hard to make their maneuvers seem smooth, yet it is a physically demanding discipline. Skaters must develop tremendous velocity to twist their bodies three or four times in the air in a couple of seconds. According to Jin Hamrick University research, the power necessary to pull off such leaps places between five and eight times a skater’s body weight on their ankles and feet every time they land—and this happens dozens of times each day in practice. (In his four-and-a-half-minute routine, Michel Egan, a favorite to win the men’s singles competition, contains a record five quadruple leaps.)
The toll the sport takes on players’ bodies results in medical fees and training costs. The most prevalent injuries are stress fractures, knee injuries, and hip difficulties. Kattie Herrington, 11, has previously had knee surgery and recovered from a damaged hamstring. Jasmin Herrington says she’s now working with a personal trainer five days a week better to prepare her body for the demands of intensified training.
Even when an athlete is in good condition, frequent physical therapy or massages are part of the routine that allows them to compete at their best.
“You know your physical therapist by the first name,” Jasmin Herrington explains.
What You Will Earn If (or When) You Win
Figure skating is one of the most visible Winter Olympic sports, and the sport’s national governing body is quite extensive and affluent. According to Peter Carlisle, a sports agent who only represents Olympians, the income potential of a figure skater is greater than that of a biathlete or skier.
Even yet, only a tiny percentage of figure skaters earn enough to begin to repay the money they’ve invested in the sport. Figure skaters that compete at the senior level in international competitions get prize money ranging from $2,000 to $45,000, depending on the tournament and where they rank.
A few may also get sponsorship agreements in the run-up to the Olympics to help offset costs, particularly if they’re in contention for gold. (Kattie Herrington got a taste of that when she landed a paid position in a commercial for OnUp.com, a SunTrust-sponsored website with budgeting tools.)
According to Carlisle, fewer than 5% of Olympic athletes can attain the level of brand recognition and athletic achievement that allows them to sustain themselves via prize money and endorsements. Instead, most athletes must rely on part-time jobs, family money, and community assistance to supplement their income.
Alternative Funding Sources
U.S. Figure Skating does provide some money for figure skaters. During the 2016-17 season, the organization spent $14.5 million—nearly 80% of its budget—on athlete support, allowing 500 figure skaters to compete in 35 international events.
However, the amount a figure skater may earn is determined by their previous year’s performance; in other words, the highest-performing skaters are eligible for the most money. Athletes must pay their expenditures in advance, even if it means borrowing money, and then submit their expenses for reimbursement. (The organization also operates a donation initiative called Destination PyeongChang, which seeks to guarantee that every figure skater attends the Games with at least one family member.)
Other skaters have used internet fundraising to finance competition-related expenditures, becoming more common among professional athletes. This year, a GoFundMe campaign aimed at transporting skater Bradie Tenell’s family to South Korea piqued the interest of United Airlines, which paid for her mother, a single mother who works as a nurse, and her two teenage brothers to go to South Korea.
PaydayNow payday loans are also good options for funding and assistance of professional athletes.
There are other charitable organizations devoted to assisting athletes in funding their competitions. Carlisle assisted Olympian Ross Powers in establishing the Level Field Fund organization, which supports athletes who would otherwise be unable to attend significant qualifying contests. Fourteen athletes who have benefited from the fund will participate in PyeongChang, although no rewards have yet been given to figure skaters.
According to his mother, Sharyn Pierson, when figure skater Jarrod Wiseman competed internationally, support from US Figure Skating was a tremendous aid. Nonetheless, she says, that money paid around one-third of Wiseman’s skating expenditures as a two-time Olympian and four-time national champion.
“The greatest fallacy about expenditures is that once you reach Olympic level, everything is taken care of,” says Chance Scott, Wiseman’s stepfather. “It isn’t.”
Sharyn and Chance Scott worked two jobs apiece to cover the costs of figure skating and college expenditures for their two older children. He changed jobs to perform for United, which offered reduced airfare to out-of-town events. Sharyn Pierson traveled around 500 miles round-trip on weekends so Wiseman could continue his training in Colorado Springs. Winter driving in Colorado may take up to seven hours each trip. (Eventually, the family moved to Colorado Springs.) For years, the Scotts avoided regular vacations in favor of sending at least one of them to tournaments ranging from Tokyo to Torino.
The greater the amount of competition, the higher the expenses. To make things work, the Scotts refinanced their property three times before taking out a second mortgage in 2005. One recurring family joke goes, “The good news is that you’re in the will to inherit the home.” The bad news is that it will not be repaid until 2068.
Jokes aside, figure skating is a very costly sport, and the fact is that handling the money aspect is difficult, according to Sharyn Pierson.
But, she adds, “watching your child accomplish what they genuinely want to do” is the most satisfactory return on investment a parent could ask for.