U.S. Olympic Committee leaders have voted to give Paralympic medal winners the same payout as those on the U.S. Olympic team.
American athletes usually earn cash payments by way of the Operation Gold Awards program when they reach the podium at the Summer and Winter Games, but Paralympians have been receiving less. Now, with the USOC board’s decision, all American athletes will be given $37,500 for each gold medal, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze.
The U.S. Paralympic team led all nations with 36 medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea this year. Oksana Masters won two golds, two silvers and a bronze in cross-country and biathlon. The U.S. sled hockey team captured its third consecutive Paralympic title and the Nordic ski team won 16 medals. The new payment structure was made retroactive, so the USOC will distribute more than $1.2 million to medalists from the Pyeongchang squad.
“Paralympians are an integral part of our athlete community and we need to ensure we’re appropriately rewarding their accomplishments,” USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said. “Our financial investment in U.S. Paralympics and the athletes we serve is at an all-time high, but this was one area where a discrepancy existed in our funding model that we felt needed to change." She also added that she was thrilled that parity and equality were brought to Operation Gold program.
As for USOC board member, Cheri Blauwet, she said that the board had been "discussing this change for several months following consultation with Paralympic athletes, the Paralympic Advisory Council and an endorsement from the Athletes Advisory Council", and that she was "really glad they were able to take this important step”.
As I was reading this tears literally were streaming down my face not only bc of the equal pay for @Paralympics medals to @USParalympics athlete but the value and worth of Para athletes finally viewed equal to @Olympics. This is absolutely LIFE changing @TeamUSA thank you 🙏🏼 https://t.co/UIj17q1IuO— Oksana Masters (@OksanaMasters) September 22, 2018
This is quite a significant milestone indeed for Paralympians who had been striving for equal treatment with non-disabled Olympic athletes for a very long time. And to please the history buffs out there, let's turn back the hands of time-- Olympic-style games for athletes with a disability were organized for the first time in Rome in 1960. In Toronto in 1976, other disability groups were added and the idea of merging together different disability groups for international sports competitions was born.
In the same year, the first Paralympic Winter Games took place in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. It featured 400 athletes from 23 countries. According to the Paralympics website, the Games are now the second biggest sporting event in the world.