The cost of competing in the Olympics isn't cheap, but you can help fund your favorite athletes through a promising new program
Corbis Images

An Olympian is known for doing whatever it takes to reach his or her goal, but there is one hurdle that even the fastest runner has a hard time overcoming: the money it takes to compete on the world stage. While the athletes may be in it for the glory, it takes a lot more than pride to pay for training, equipment, travel, and competition expenses.

One solution is a new program started by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), which allows athletes to "register" for specific needs that the public can then choose to purchase for them.

The Team USA registry gives donors the chance to help out athletes by paying for anything from a new bike helmet to their baggage fees to chipping in for groceries (which, at the rate these ladies and gents burn calories, we imagine add up fast). And those are just the things you'd expect. A quick scan down the athletes' wish lists shows stuff that would put even the most creative wedding or baby registry to shame. For $250, you can buy just the handles of the pommel horse for the U.S. Men's Gymnastics team, or a high-powered blender for whipping up hundreds of protein shakes. If you're feeling less spendy, $15 will purchase a mouthguard for a rugby player and $50 will pay for a support dog to help a Paralympian. And for $1,000, you can buy a runner a set of (really expensive) compression sleeves. (Sounds like one of our 8 Items of Workout Gear Too Expensive to Get Dirty.)

Many people think being an Olympian means being rich-and that may be true for athletes who gain sponsorships after winning the gold. But the vast majority of Olympic athletes struggle immensely to fulfill their dream. A Forbes analysis found that the average cost per hopeful is at least $40,000 a year-a tab that's usually picked up by their family. Super-swimmer Michael Phelps' parents have said they pay about $100,000 per year with a career total of over one million dollars just to keep him in the pool. So it's no wonder that many families, like those of swimmer Ryan Lochte and gymnast Gabby Douglas, have had to declare bankruptcy, sacrificing everything they own to support their future Olympian. (What Makes an Olympic Athlete Great?)

When it comes to earning cash themselves, potential Olympians are in a difficult position. Advertising deals and sponsorships are ideal, but athletes are bound by a confusing web of rules regarding how much money they can take from corporate sponsors as well as how it's used-a situation that's even harder for athletes who aren't well-known or play sports that aren't as popular. And it's not like they can pick up a day job, either. Between hours in the gym and much-needed recovery periods, training for the Olympics is itself a full-time job. Between sponsorships and jobs, the average Olympic hopeful earns just $20,000 a year-barely half of the minimum Forbes reports them needing.

"The Olympics are not something you do to get rich. You do it so that you can represent your country performing in a sport you love," Shannon Miller, a member of the 1996 gold medal-winning US women's gymnastics team told

Yet the money has to come from somewhere. The USOC has a limited amount of funds to use to help young athletes, but as one of the only national Olympic committee that has no government backing, the money goes dry long before the need for it. So now the USOC is turning to the public to help support the Olympians and Paralympians that we love watching so much. Helping is as easy as going to the Team USA Registry and making a donation-you can even choose which item you'd like to donate to which team. And with Rio 2016 just around the corner, the time to help ensure your favorite gets a chance at the gold is now. And perhaps when they win, wearing the compression sleeve system you helped pay for, you'll feel a little bit like you won too!