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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Athletes to Cash In at Atlanta

The Russian Olympic Committee is promising $100,000 apiece to its gold-medal winners in this summer's Games in Atlanta, a total believed to be much higher than in most Western countries.

Vitaly Smirnov, president of the ROC, made the promise during a meeting last week at the ROC headquarters with some two dozen athletes, after a ceremony where he and Sports Minister Shamil Tarpishev handed out official invitations to the 1996 Summer Games to the country's top medal prospects.

However, the athletes used the meeting to complain about their financial, living and training conditions. "The mood was businesslike," said three-time world indoor sprint champion Irina Privalova. "We asked specific questions and got specific answers."

The biggest surprise was the bonuses. "Publicly we said the gold, silver and bronze medals would be worth $50,000, $20,000 and $10,000 respectively," Smirnov told the athletes, reiterating a promise he made during a previous press conference. "But to you I can say that's the least you would get. The first medal in an individual event would be worth a cool $100,000.

"For example, Irina can make $150,000 if she wins both the 100 and 200 meters," said Smirnov, turning to Privalova. "Plus she can make even more by running the relays.

"We didn't want it overblown, mainly for security reasons," he said. "Just a couple of weeks ago one of our divers was pushed out from a ninth-floor window."

Yelena Miroshina, 21, was found dead at the foot of her apartment block a week before New Year's. A spokesman for the diving federation said Friday that the case is still under investigation.

Smirnov told the athletes: "With the criminal situation in our country, if some of you have security problems, let us know right away. We have the ways and means to stop any threats."

Last summer Privalova, among others, publicly complained that disclosure of salaries made athletes into targets.

Bonus money is not unusual for Olympic athletes, although the amounts Smirnov quoted are higher than usual. The United States Olympic Committee will give its Atlanta competitors $15,000 for a gold, $10,000 for a silver, $7,500 for a bronze and $5,000 for fourth place.

Norway, host of the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, gave 30,000 kroner ($4,622) for a gold in those Games, but will not give bonuses in Atlanta.

Top Western athletes can far outstrip the money available to Russians via lucrative endorsement contracts.

British athletes must rely on such endorsements, as the country does not directly reward its athletes.

Richard Palmer, general secretary of the British Olympic Association, said the group has resisted bonuses "so far."

However, Palmer said that the association does support athletes. "We have some 100 most promising athletes who get ?10,000 ($15,100) to ?12,000 a year for training and living expenses," he said.

Smirnov also said that St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak has promised to match the federal prize money for his city's athletes, doubling their bonuses.

In this country, bonuses go back well into the Soviet Union's "shamateur" days, as Smirnov revealed last week.

"Anatoly Ivanovich, tell them how much you got for your gold medal," Smirnov said to one of his deputies, Anatoly Kolesov, who in 1964 won in Greco-Roman wrestling.

"I got 1,500 rubles then," said the chief of Russia's Atlanta '96 committee with a smile. At the time, 1,500 rubles was worth about $2,000.

Smirnov also assured the athletes that money is not a problem.

"Our budget increased almost 15 fold since 1993, from 7 billion rubles [$1.5 million] to more than 104 billion in 1995," he said. "Ninety-three percent of that money goes to elite athletes."

The establishment in 1992 of the National Sports Foundation, headed by Tarpishev, paved the way for huge financial investments into Russian sport. The NSF made millions of dollars importing alcohol and tobacco, using controversial tax-exempt status granted by the government, until the spring of 1995. A decree by the State Duma last April cut that money pipeline and had Olympic officials worried.

But Smirnov said he and other officials used their influential friends in government to gain an extension on the tax-exempt status until "the new Duma makes laws that will support Olympic and mass sports in our country."

Still, there were several questions raised regarding financial matters.

"Our fencing team still has not received any bonus money for winning the overall world championship last summer," said 1995 foil champion Dmitry Shevchenko. "It may not sound like a lot, about $2,000 per person, but for some of us that's big."

Modern pentathlon world champion Dmitry Svatkovsky and two-time European champion marksman Alexander Danilov voiced customs concerns.

Svatkovsky said his federation ordered new fencing suits -- at over $1,000 each -- from a foreign manufacturer, but the shipment is still sitting in Sheremetyevo customs because they lack the money to pay import and storage costs.

Danilov said that import duties more than double the cost of rifles and ammunition, "and we can barely afford it."

And Andrei Chemerkin, who at 23 became the youngest man to win the world heavyweight weight-lifting title in 1995, was concerned with a matter even closer to home than his equipment.

"It would be nice if we had a balanced meal every day," said the 125-kilogram lifter about the food athletes get at the Olympic training center in Podolsk. "We spend two or three months, living and training there, and you get tired of the same meal every day."

And commercial interests were not ignored. Privalova voiced a concern over the team warm-up suits from Reebok, Russia's major Olympic sponsor.

"The suits are too heavy and too warm," she said. "In hot and humid Atlanta, that would cause a major problem just wearing them."

Privalova has a shoe contract with Nike.