ATHENS (Reuters) - A simple wreath of wild olive leaves and a promise of immortality were enough for champions at the ancient Olympics in Greece.
At the modern Games, professional athletes who bring home medals are offered rather more worldly rewards.
Greece dropped the idea of presenting the winner with a wreath and an amphora of precious olive oil long ago and instead will offer about 190,000 euros ($277,000) for gold medalists at August’s Beijing Olympics, 130,000 for silver and 70,000 for bronze.
Medallists will also get a comfortable civil service job, usually as an officer in the military, and several advertising contracts worth hundreds of thousands of euros in total.
Games newcomers Montenegro, who joined the Olympic family last year, will offer $60,000 but the chances of anyone collecting the bonus are slim for the tiny Balkan nation with a population of about 700,000.
Olympic powerhouse Russia offers $50,000 for gold, $30,000 for silver and $20,000 for bronze.
Russian Olympic medallists can also expect big bonuses from various sports funds and private businesses such as energy giant Gazprom, as well as free housing, cash and cars from their local city or regional authorities, driving up their potential revenues to about $500,000.
Other European nations are less eager to shower winners with rewards for fear of running up a considerable bill.
Germany, sixth in the 2004 Games medals table with a total of 48 medals, offers only 15,000 euros for a top-place finish.
Asian nations are bigger spenders. China is particularly eager to be among the top countries in the medals count at its home Games.
For the Athens 2004 Games, Beijing offered about 20,000 euros for gold, 11,500 for silver and 7,500 for bronze.
The Chinese General Administration of Sport has not made the amounts for this year’s Games public but winners can count on additional bonuses from sports administrations, cities and provinces. The Fok Ying-Tung Foundation has also been rewarding Chinese gold medallists since 1984 with one kilo of gold and $80,000.
Singapore, which has won only one medal — silver in weightlifting at the 1960 Games in Rome — hopes to end the drought in Beijing by offering close to half a million euros to any gold medalist.
Malaysia said it would also increase its reward for medallists and would pump in private money as well, saying Singapore’s and Indonesia’s lucrative offers far surpassed their own Olympic rewards scheme.
Malaysia has collected three Olympic medals, all in badminton, and has won nothing since the Atlanta 1996 Games.
Japan is more restrained, dishing out 19,000 euros for gold, 12,500 for silver and 6,300 for bronze.
Figures for secretive North Korea are not available but medallists from the communist state are celebrated as heroes, receiving perks such as apartments and state jobs with the Workers’ Party.
Canada has broken with a long tradition, offering for the first time a purse of about 14,000 euros for gold, 10,000 for silver and 7,000 for bronze, similar to the bonuses paid by the United States.
The Canadians failed to win any gold medals at their own Games in 1976 in Montreal and 1988 in Calgary and, with the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in western Canada in sight, the country wants to test a new system of motivating athletes.
“This is the first time in its history that the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is providing performance awards to athletes who win Olympic medals,” COC chief Michael Chambers said late last year.