So you’ve made it to the Olympics. No, not as a spectator, although getting tickets to the biggest events is a pretty impressive feat in and of itself, but as an athlete. You’ve worked your butt off for this. Suddenly there are TV cameras in your face everywhere you go and a ton of pressure on your back. You can do the right thing and train up until the minute your name is called out, or you can go a bit crazy. Why not get drunk, find a bed partner, and eat a bunch of fast food? And if you get too stressed there’s always a therapy dog to calm you. This is the sort of crazy stuff that goes on behind the scenes that regular viewers like us never get to see.
They eat a ton of McDonald’s
Olympians have to be disciplined in so many areas of their lives. They have to wake up early and work out numerous hours a day. They have to be available for random drug tests all the time. And, of course, they have to be fastidious when it comes to diet. That is until they actually get to the Olympics, when being careful about food seems to go out the window.
It all comes down to McDonald’s being a sponsor. According to Eater, they don’t just get to set up a restaurant in the regular Olympic park for chubby punters to enjoy, they also have an outpost in the Olympic Village itself to cater to all those eight-or-more-ab-packed Olympians. And they want to give those athletes a reason to show up, so in Rio they offered free food to all of them. The problem was it became too popular, and it’s probably not shocking that people who work out all day without getting paid can really pack food away, so they finally had to add a limit of 20 items per order.
Mickey D’s can be a welcome sight in countries that don’t have Western food. Usain Bolt found that out when he was in China for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. ESPN says his autobiography recorded him eating 1,000 McNuggets over 10 days of competition, as well as mountains of fries and the odd apple pie to sate his sweet tooth.
Everyone in the Olympic Village is boning
Some athletes have to compete repeatedly and stay totally committed to their sport, but some have more one-and-done events and find themselves with two weeks of time on their hands. And, shockingly, these people who have been working out every day for the past four years are in really good shape. Really good, really sexy shape. And they suddenly find themselves surrounded by equally athletic, attractive people with lots of free time. So they do what most anyone would do in that situation and start boning like their lives depend on it.
According to CNN, event organizers expected 2018 in Pyeongchang to be the sexiest Olympics on record. Only 100 more athletes competed than in Sochi, but 10,000 more condoms were shipped in for a total of 110,000.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Olympic Village is composed of nothing more than bedrooms and bored athletes. But in reality the participants have a lot of things they can do that doesn’t involve bedroom gymnastics (or bedroom luge, for the adventurous). They have food available 24/7, gyms they can work off that extra energy in, and even multifaith areas where they can go and pray for gold. How depraved are these people that they choose belly-bumping their sculpted abs over church?
It’s not just the athletes. While there are about 37 condoms per person to last them two weeks, media members get their own supply. Even spectators get some.
They get drunk and do interviews (as well as other things)
After you’ve proven to the world that you’re the greatest at what you do, you might think you deserve a cheeky drink. And that’s fine in theory, but you’re representing your country and sometimes alcohol leads to problems.
Take Hope Solo, the famous soccer goalie for the U.S. women’s team. According to Business Insider, she admitted in 2012 that her whole team went out celebrating the night after they won gold in 2008. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating your win, unless, that is, you know you have a TV interview early in the morning. Solo says the girls went out and got off their faces, then changed clothes and went on Today without any sleep. Fortunately, they hid their drunken drowsiness well, with only one slip-up when Solo called the Games the World Cup.
Athletes who talked to ESPN say some coaches do try to ban alcohol consumption before competitions, but it doesn’t always work. But once the closing ceremonies come around, everyone is finished with their sport and can completely let rip. One participant said, "They basically throw us all in a stadium and say, ‘Just go for it, party hard, get drunk, and do some groping.’" What you don’t see on TV is athletes arriving drunk, then sneaking away to get even more drinks before rejoining the scrum on the field. It’s the last chance for them to go wild for four years.
They get their dental problems fixed at the Games
There are a lot of perks to being an Olympian: the Wheaties’ box covers, the national recognition, the Olympic Village aggressive cuddling. Perhaps the most surprising is that if you have problems with your teeth you can get them fixed for free, but only once you get there.
According to the Spokesman-Review, being an Olympian does a number not only on your body but on your teeth. Or as the dental director for the International Olympic Committee Paul Piccininni put it, "They have bodies of Adonis and a garbage mouth."
Dental problems get so bad that it can actually stop athletes from competing, which is why every games has a bunch of dentists standing by to fix any issues. And you don’t have to break your teeth slamming face-first into a wall on the skeleton; these can be problems that built up over time. Athletes spend their days training and drinking sugary sports drinks that do a number on their teeth. Mouth guards wear away enamel. Even dehydration from working out can affect your tooth health. It’s a perfect storm of problems, and since they don’t hold down normal jobs, a lot of participants don’t have good dental insurance. But they know if they can just make it to the games they can get all the necessary work done for free. It’s not weird to have an athlete come in in the middle of the night for root canal surgery.
They cost an absurd amount of money to put on
If you’re just a casual observer of the Olympics, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re great value for the money the host cities throw at them. Sure, they have to build a bunch of special stadiums, but they get so much free advertising for two weeks it might as well be millions in free travel advertising. Unfortunately, just about every metric shows that hosting the games is a money sink.
The Council on Foreign Relations cites Andrew Zimbalist, author of Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup. According to the book, every Olympics since 1960 has cost a lot more than expected and didn’t make any cash out of it. By 1972, Denver actually became the first selected host city to turn down its bid because someone realized how much it would actually cost. The 1976 games in Montreal were so costly it took three decades to pay them off, according to statistical blog FiveThirtyEight.
It’s gotten so bad that several aspiring host cities have pulled bids. Oslo and Stockholm both backed out of their 2022 bids, and Boston dropped the 2024 games, with the mayor saying he wouldn’t "mortgage the future of the city away." And more are following suit. It seems the Olympics just aren’t a good investment.
‘Post-Olympic depression,’ for winners or losers
The buildup to an Olympics is long and intense. Some people have been working every day for almost their whole lives just to get there, medal or not. Competing leads to a huge adrenaline dump, and many people, if they placed last or came home with the gold, have a hard time coming back from that.
According to The Atlantic, Michael Phelps is perhaps the biggest example of this. He won a record eight medals in Beijing and then completely collapsed. He said he "barely trained" for the 2012 London games and in 2014 got a DUI. He said he fell into "the darkest place you could ever imagine." But he is far from the only one. Mark Spitz, the Michael Phelps of the 1970s, had such a hard time moving on from his swimming fame that he tried to qualify for the Olympics in his forties. And there are dozens of others who have admitted falling into a deep depression after the Games.
Clinical sports psychologist Kristin Keim says the key is to build a personality off the playing field. Too many athletes throw themselves so into their sport that they don’t see how they’re important or worthy without it. Caroline Silby, a sports psychologist and former competitive skater, says a lot of athletes fall prey to something we can all have at times: "impostor syndrome," where we think we’re just tricking everyone into thinking we know what the hell is going on.
Qualifying can be more stressful than competing (and therapy dogs help)
Most people don’t care about 99 percent of sports at the Olympics until the games actually start. Curling qualifiers aren’t exactly the Super Bowl when it comes to coverage. But the athletes are out there doing their thing week after week, and in some cases actually qualifying for the Olympics can be harder than finally being there.
In the run-up to the 2018 Pyeongchang games, People reported Lindsey Vonn didn’t go anywhere without one of her furry friends. While she has three dogs, the tiniest, Lucy, accompanies her everywhere as she trains and qualifies.
Petcha says it even goes beyond that. In preparation for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the USA Swimming program brought in 30 dogs to act as therapy pals for stressed-out swimmers. It seemed to help, so they expect this trend to continue. Something about looking in a dog’s eyes and knowing he just wants petting and love helps create distance from the intense stress of the Olympics.
During the 2014 Sochi Olympics there was a bit of a stray dog problem, and lots of feral furry friends were euthanized. But when people heard what was happening many of them adopted the stray dogs. Slate even came up with creative ways you could add dogs to various winter events — wouldn’t having a pooch in figure skating be a huge step up?
Infrastructure is always a problem
The 2014 Sochi Olympics became famous for how crappy they were. Athletes showed up and soon started flooding Twitter with images of everything around them that wasn’t as you would expect. Sochi had years of preparation to get this done; surely doors should be able to close correctly! But the problems at Sochi were nothing new. According to GQ, the problems were par for the course at the Olympics. The 1900 games in Paris were so disorganized that some athletes competed and had absolutely no idea what they had just done, helped by the fact that there were no medal ceremonies.
It was so hard to get to the 1904 St. Louis Olympics (no highways to Middle America yet) that only 12 countries showed up. The 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid were also dogged by transportation issues, with just 80 of the 300 planned buses running. And public transport is terrible at the best of times.
Sarajevo’s 1984 Games were a complete farce, considering they were involved in an actual war at the time. The bobsled track was used as an artillery stronghold, among other crazy thing that would seem weird if you read them in a novel.
Then there was Sochi 2014, where lightbulbs became a bartering tool among athletes. People were especially desperate to trade for door knobs. Some had no pillows, and others found paint still drying in their rooms. Ahh, luxury and paint fumes.
They used to pay taxes on their winnings
There are very few things you can do to make your country look better than winning a medal at the Olympics. Unfortunately, the (U.S.) tax man doesn’t care about that, or he didn’t until very recently. He still wanted his cut of the money.
The problem was that Olympians get paid cash for winning by their national Olympic committees. Also, although gold medals aren’t pure gold and silver medals aren’t pure silver, they’re still worth something and therefore can be taxed. A gold medal is worth about $600, silver around $300, and poor lowly bronze didn’t get taxed because it was worth less than $5.
Then there’s the cash. The Olympics themselves don’t reward athletes, but their individual country’s Olympic programs do. According to Fox Business, an American gold medalist takes home $37,500, and gets taxed on it. In 2016 at the Rio Olympics, Michael Phelps was left with a $55,000 tax bill after winning six medals, according to Time.
Eventually, President Obama realized this was crazy and said only Olympians who make more than $1 million per year through sponsorship and whatnot have to pay taxes on their winnings (via Yahoo Finance). And since superstars like Shaun White are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to endorsements, that means most athletes no longer have to pay tax on their winnings. Just hope none of them go on to win a Nobel Prize, since that still gets a visit from the tax man.
It costs a huge amount to get there
Getting to the Olympics means you’ve beaten the best in the world, become superpowers at the top of your sport. Or it just means you can afford it. Plenty of talented athletes miss out on the gold because they can’t afford it.
Indian luger Shiva Keshavan has been training for years in the foothills of the Himalayas. Amazingly, according to CNN, he doesn’t actually get much snow and trains on a sled with wheels. And it has taken him to the Olympics every games since 1998 when he was just 16. In his 20 years of Olympics he has only been able to afford a part-time coach and had a regular job at a restaurant on the side. He barely made it to the 2018 Olympics because he couldn’t afford the flights needed to get the places where he would qualify. And training isn’t cheap. According to him it costs $100,000 a year, with a basic sledge costing $5,000 minimum.
Luge isn’t the only high-ticket sport. Time says figure skating is another one of the priciest, with coaches making $120 an hour. And these are kids that train many hours a day, six days a week. Parents have to really commit to their children’s Olympic success, with training, costumes, and various other fees costing $50,000 a year by some estimates.
And there are many more. If you want to be an Olympian, be prepared to give up years of your life and thousands of dollars to achieve your dream.