Rovshan Bayramov of Azerbaijan, who won a silver Olympic medal this week in the men's Greco-Roman wrestling competition, fared much better than U.S. rower Esther Lofgren or any of her crewmates who took gold in the eight-woman, 2,000-meter race in London.
That's because the former Soviet republic in the Caucasus rewards its Olympic medalists handsomely - in Mr. Bayramov's case, the equivalent of $61,888 for a second-place finish. Had he won gold, Mr. Bayramov stood to collect the equivalent of $123,777.
Mr. Bayramov would have been even better off had he wrestled for Thailand. That country pays the U.S. equivalent of $314,000 for a gold medal, $187,788 for silver and $125,213 for bronze.
Ms. Lofgren, on the other hand, earned a gold medal but only $25,000 in cash. The U.S. Olympic Committee pays that amount for first place, along with $15,000 for silver medals and $10,000 for bronze.
Of course, had any of the rowers won gold in a high-profile sport such as swimming or gymnastics, they would be cashing in big time thanks to endorsement mega-deals, just as Michael Phelps or Gabby Douglas will. Both have or are soon expected to sign multi-million-dollar contracts to appear in commercials ranging from shampoo to breakfast cereals.
The late Johnny Kelley of Mystic, a former Boston Marathon champion who competed in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and the 1960 Olympics in Rome, was not allowed to accept a nickel in prize money from any of his road race victories, and even had to give up a minimally paid position as coach of the high school cross-country team because Olympic officials then felt it violated his amateur status.
He ran as a pure athlete, for the love of the sport.
This newspaper has nothing against Olympians being paid. After all, athletes who devote so much time and energy while training often can't hold down full-time jobs, and it's unfair to those whose families can't afford to support them or who make punishing sacrifices.
Ms. Douglas's mother declared bankruptcy; the family of gold-medal swimmer Ryan Lochte faces foreclosure on their home.
Still, it rankles that renowned professional athletes such as NBA star LeBron James, who made $57 million last year in salary and endorsements while playing for the Miami Heat, could also pocket $25,000 in Olympic cash if, as expected, the U.S. basketball team walks away with the gold.
The fact that Mr. James and his fellow NBA players are allowed to play at all in the Olympics represents a huge shift in attitudes brought about when this country got tired of its amateur athletes getting trounced by teams from Europe and Asia, who had no reservations about letting professional athletes compete.
Now, the U.S. Olympic basketball team is no different from an NBA all-star team.
This is fine if all you want to do is win medals, but we lament that such pro-stacking eliminates the possibility of exciting upsets.
Perhaps the most thrilling game ever was the ice hockey contest between the United States and the Soviet Union Arena during the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York.
The victory by a U.S. team made up of amateur and collegiate players, over a Soviet team comprised of professionals who had won nearly every world championship and Olympic tournament since 1954, became known as the "Miracle on Ice."
Delirious fans spontaneously began shouting a chant that still echoes at Olympic venues today: "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"
Too bad it sounds so much like "N.B.A.! N.B.A.! N.B.A.!"