Not all Olympic medals were created equal. Or at least, some Olympic medallists are cheaper than others.
A look at the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee's (Sascoc's) budget allocations shows that the silver medal Caster Semenya won in the 800m race cost less than half than the gold medal Cameron van der Burgh won in the 100m breaststroke final.
Costs covered by Sascoc include coaching, equipment, flights to compete internationally and those incurred while athletes live overseas in training camps.
Van der Burgh cost Sascoc the most out of all the local athletes awarded funding at the Olympic games. He was allocated a total of more than R1.3-million. About R640 000 was spent in the 10 months leading up to the Olympics, with the remainder spent in preparation between 2009 and 2011. Of this amount, R25 000 was allocated to coaching and almost R100 000 spent on a six-week pre-Olympic training camp in Europe.
The next most expensive winner was Chad le Clos, who won gold and silver swimming butterfly, with a total allocation of more than R1.2-million. However, by winning two gold medals, Le Clos brought his individual medal cost down to around R600 000 a medal, meaning it rivalled the cheapest medal won by the team.
Canoe sprint bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley was the third most expensive South African victor. Hartley was allocated more than R740 000. More than half of this was spent in pre-Olympic training, largely in international canoeing camps in Europe.
<strong>Funding had grown</strong>
Caster Semenya, the 800m silver medallist, was allocated about R630 000. Her living and training costs of R57 000 were covered by the department of sport and recreation, meaning Sascoc had to pick up the tab only for a few qualifying races and one pre-Olympic international camp. Sascoc was unable to supply details of the department's support for other athletes.
Men's lightweight-rowing gold medallists, Sizwe Ndlovu, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and James Thompson, were each given between about R250 000 and R280 000. Their only costs this year were for accommodation at the games.
Ezera Tshabangu, the deputy chef de mission for the South African Olympic squad at Sascoc, said: "Some athletes are fortunate that they had private sponsorship. But we tried to cover the costs of qualifying athletes at least 80%."
Tshabangu said that the criteria for funding had grown increasingly stringent as the games approached. "When we started in 2009, we looked at funding all of our athletes that made the top 15 [of their discipline] in the world. In 2010, we reduced it to the top 12 and these athletes had to be motivated by their federation. By 2011, it was down to eight."
Sascoc chief financial officer Vinesh Maharaj told the <em>Mail & Guardian</em> sponsorships were made up of both private and government funders. "Ideally, the split would be 60% private funding and 40% government funding," he said.
"Private funders have more to gain through sponsorships than government funders do," Maharaj said.
Nevertheless, he said that private funding for Olympic athletes had dwindled in the past five years because of a "nervousness" over sponsorship. Maharaj said that Sascoc would redefine the sponsorship packages it offered to private funders with a view to creating long-term packages that provided stability for the athletes and measurable benefits for funders.
In the four years leading up to and including the Olympics, Sascoc allocated a total of almost R35-million to qualifying athletes.