You Just Won An Olympic Medal. Now What Do You Do?

With the world shutting down, we’re reaching into our archives and pulling some of our favorite stories from the SwimSwam print edition to share online. If you’d like to read more of this kind of story, you can subscribe to get a print (and digital) version of SwimSwam Magazine here. This story was originally published in the 2016 Olympic Preview issue of SwimSwam Magazine.

ONE – The Private Moment

Stop. Take a breath, one private moment, as soon as you can while your emotions are still raw. Let it sink in. I’m an Olympic Champion. You’ve worked so long for this, mortgaged your childhood for it, and you will never experience a euphoria like it again.

So many of my peers have shared how they didn’t stop and completely soak it up in that first private moment alone. Take it. Feel the relief wash over you, the full understanding that all of your hard work has paid off. Accept it with an open heart. If you cry, and many do, let it rip. You’ve been holding tension in your body for a long, long time. Trust me, it’ll take the edge off in ways you never dreamed of.

TWO – The 2nd Private Moment

You have a lot of people to thank. Make a list and work your way through it. Call them as soon as possible. Your gratitude will have more impact now than it will than later. If you’re in the middle of the chaos, at the event, they’ll understand you can’t talk forever. Tell them thank you, that you love them, that you’re thinking of them. Celebrate the moment with them.

THREE – You’re a Star

You’re a star…sort of. You’re a swim star, which is not exactly the same as being a star. The best advice I got, and I got it early, came from my peers. 4-time Olympic gold medalist John Naber (1976) and 3-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines (1984) shared their wisdom shortly after I won in 1992. Their advice:

You’re an ambassador of the Olympics and an ambassador of your sport, swimming. You will experience the honor and privilege of being paid to make appearances and give speeches, but half of what you do will end up being for free. 50% of your time will be spent supporting your sport or the Olympic Movement for zero dollars. If you understand you must do your part to pay-it-back, your career as an Olympic ambassador will last longer.

FOUR – Your Peers

Your peers are your Olympic brothers and sisters. No one will ever understand your experience so intimately. Maintain those ties. You will find them to be your best resource for much of what you will encounter as an Olympic Champion. They can provide information and insight fast and without any sugar-coating that will waste your time. If you ever have a business or charity need, they can help, and if they can’t, they will point you in the right direction. Most importantly, even though you have a Ph.D in your sport, you don’t know everything. You will be surprised by what you can learn by simply asking your peers for advice and listening closely. They’re a braintrust you can count on.

FIVE – Agents and Managers

The Olympic dust has settled and you’re back home, but now you have to manage this career you’re supposed to have as an Olympic Ambassador. It’s time to make a few smart choices, the first being what agent or manager to work with. The right agent or manager can help you build a long lasting career as an Olympic Ambassador. The wrong representative will eat up enormous amounts of time and energy, and you’ll have nothing to show for it. Choose wisely, and get advice. Start by re-reading #4. Your peers can help you. They know the agents and managers with long-standing corporate relationships. Also, contact these two people, Matt Farrell, USA Swimming’s Chief Marketing Officer and Chris Coleman, United States Olympic Committee Athlete Marketing. Matt manages USA Swimming’s messaging and their corporate partnerships. Matt can help you. Chris is a former winter Olympian who manages Athlete Marketing for the USOC. Chris knows everyone in the market, and he’s a peer, an Olympic brother. Chris will steer you in the right direction. Just call the main phone number at USA Swimming or the USOC and ask for these two gentlemen. If you are an international swim star, contact Camillo Cametti, the FINA Media Committee Chair. Camillo is well-respect and kind to athletes. He may not be able to help everyone, because our international swim-family is so large, but he can point you in the right direction. One final nugget of advice: The people I’m suggesting you contact will be helpful, but they won’t hold your hand. It’s up to you to digest the advice and make your own decisions. You’re the CEO of your career. Take charge and move quickly.

SIX – The Swimwear Endorsement

A third of my Olympic peers would advise you to make a swimwear partnership before you sign with an agent or manager. If you’ve got one gold medal, and your social media network is small or nonexistent, that makes sense. If, however, your gold medal swim garnered a lot of attention, and/or you won three or more medals, and/or you have a robust social network of 100,000+ followers, you need an agent or manager to negotiate on your behalf. Most swimwear partnerships are boilerplate agreements. Swimwear companies have been making them for decades. They know the market, and your manager will quickly know roughly what your endorsement will net. The reason why you want an industry professional to negotiate is to fatten the agreement with incentives. Incentives add bonus dollars. They’re a full card made up of events and media appearances over and above the base annual fee you receive. If you’re still competing, incentives include performance benchmarks. For example, if you crack the top 5 in the world in other events, you receive bonus money. Additional incentives will allow you to work more for more money if you are so inclined. It’s a win-win for you and the brand. Lastly, if you want a longterm agreement, a manager can help pad the partnership with additional years of service long after you hang up your suit.

SEVEN – Find a Charity

Ideally you can find a cause to pour your passion into. The right cause will bolster your soul-coal and get you excited about something, anything other than your own accomplishments and ego. Believe or not, you will get tired of the title Olympic Champion and all the responsibilities it entails. You’ll appreciate the title, you’ll always feel a tingle of pride hearing it, but you will get to the point that you really want to do something that is NOT about you. The right charity provides you the opportunity to roll up your sleeves and do something that will transcend your achievement, and, hopefully, leave the world a slightly better place. This process will also rejuvenate you and add a new layer of meaning to your career.

EIGHT – Write your Speech

You need to write a speech, a 40 minute speech you can truncate to 30, 20, 10 or 5 minutes. You’re going to give this speech a lot, so much so you will edit it and mold it into a solid, impactful message. If you find you have a gift for speaking or an inspiring message, have it captured on video. Once you have that video, you can sign up for every Speakers Bureau that will accept you, and there are quite a few. Just Google speakers bureau. Speaking fees can become your top producing income stream if you establish yourself and gain a reputation for this overlooked skill. Fees start as low as $1,000 and go up to $20,000 per speech. Do you have a moving message? Do you know how to develop it? Consider this, everyone will know how your story ends, which means you need sell the buildup. You need to paint a personal picture of yourself with an Olympic dream and Mount Everest standing in your way. Takeout your pad and start listing off all of the failures, setback, heartaches and moments you knew your Olympic dream had died. Start there. Before you know it, your story will crystallized.

NINE – Swimming Clinics

Swimming clinics are the backbone of many Olympic Champions’ careers, a great opportunity to travel the country and reach thousands of swimmers face-to-face. The experience is so much fun, you will remember it for a lifetime. You can do them on your own or sign up with two well-established clinic tours, Fitter and Faster Swim Tour and/or Mutual of Omaha BREAKOUT Swim Clinic. Between these two clinic tours, nearly 420 swim clubs are reached annually.   You won’t get rich hosting swimming clinics, but you will earn some money. Most importantly, you’ll love the look on kids faces after you’ve helped them learn something vital, or, better yet, said these four words, Who wants to race?

TEN – Saving It

95% of Olympic Champions aren’t going to make a lot of money, enough to retire, but you can make enough to start your young life out with some financial security. Once you know what your annual income looks like, strive to live off your earnings from everything except your swimwear partnership. Sock the swimwear partnership revenue away. Many of my peers did this, and they are so thankful they did. If you can save a portion of your earnings and put it towards a home, a business or more education, you will leave your career satisfied and grateful you were fortunate enough to have been born with the right genes, a supportive family, a talented coach and the grit to win on the biggest stage in sport.

ELEVEN – Your Contact Info

You need a professional contact. [email protected] isn’t going to cut it. You want to be taken seriously. I’m not going to pay SwimNerd280085 $5,000 to stand and wave at my next event. Get a normal email, P.O. Box, and even though it’s old school get business cards printed. Make the font small with just your name, number, address and email. Whoever you give it to will know you’re an Olympic Champion.

TWELVE – The Staff

I’m ending with The Staff. It’s important. Here’ s why.

If you’ve done steps 1-11, then your Olympic Ambassador career is rolling and you are stupidly busy, traveling way too much—tired, jet-lagged, feeling extremely unhealthy. You’ve signed gazillion autographs, frozen your face into a painfully-champed smile, and heard yourself recount the same personal narrative so many times you think you’re going crazy. You’re not. You’re simply deep into the Olympic honeymoon period making money while you can and people still have the Olympic Games fresh in their minds. It is at this point that you begin to understand your manager negotiated all of the deals, then sent you out to do the work. The manager is not traveling with you. Typically they’re not managing your travel, other than your calendar, and many managers don’t even manage your calendar. Their staff does it all. Their staff manages your life. And the companies you are making appearance for or speaking on behalf of…they have staff managing their end of the agreement as well. These are the people who will make your life easier and more comfortable or make it a nightmare. Take the time to get to know them. Tell them thank you. If you can manage simple details regarding travel, do it. If they travel to an event and have to carry endless bags and boxes to setup backdrops or podiums or tables, help them.   In sum, don’t be an Olympic Diva. The Olympic movement is also an industry, and the staff, the young people humping-it, working hard, often end up becoming CEOs and CMOs of companies and/or executive directors of national governing bodies. In other words, they’ll be the ones hiring you when you’re middle aged—or not. Just remember to be kind and courtesy when you’re at your most stressed on this long journey.

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Wolfpack Bruce
2 years ago

Great perspective from an Olympian that competed with Morales, Biondi and Jager, among other less well known. Endorsements were not a slam dunk and world ranked, even Olympic gold medalists, often lived on US Swimming stipends while training. You and your contemporaries paved the way for those that make six, even seven figures today. Of course, I’m biased.

Josh Davis
2 years ago

Great article! Right on! Thanks!

Hans Dersch
2 years ago

Brilliant. Wish I’d had this advice.

2 years ago

Time to cash on it!!

2 years ago

Maybe ask Michael Phelps, he’s been there/done that 23 times…

Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
2 years ago

He’s definitely lighting the torch in LA.

Captain Price
2 years ago


Wuhan Jimmy
2 years ago

THIRTEEN: make a talk-over analysis video of your 1991 World Championship Race against the reigning World and Olympic champion.

FOURTEEN: go for the trifecta: win the gold, invent a cure for CV-19, and start writing catchy rap lyrics. The public will love it and your marketability will soar! Date a super model — that works too!

FIFTEEN: recycle your old material (but only during Olympic years — another John Naber tip).

2 years ago

I suppose you could still reach out to him, but Matt Farrell is no longer with USA Swimming. He’s over with golf long drive or something like that.

Gold Medal Mel Stewart
Reply to  Swimmer
2 years ago

…this is a rerun of a ‘16 Olympic mag feature.

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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