When the Olympics open in Sochi later this week, a select few U.S. Olympians will be arriving with multimillion-dollar endorsement deals and promises of more fame and fortune to come.
But many of the nation's greatest athletes will be competing for love—and just hoping to scrape together enough money.
"There [are] very few people in curling for the money," said Allison Pottinger, 40, an Olympian who figures she may break even on the costs of competing this year.
"At best it's a zero sum [game], but there are so many things you gain that aren't monetary," she said.
Pottinger will have plenty of company on the U.S. Olympic team. Many of the nation's top athletes are fulfilling their Olympic dreams thanks only to hard work and a mishmash of scant funding through athletic associations, small sponsorship deals and the generosity of family, friends and even strangers.
"It's a little bit of everything," said Doug Blais, a sport management professor at Southern New Hampshire University.
For some athletes competing in more obscure sports, even a place on the podium won't guarantee a payday.
"Even if they win gold, there is no pot of gold," Blais said.
That may come as a surprise to Americans watching the games on television and used to seeing the faces of high-profile athletes like Shaun White. His sponsor, GoPro, built him a private half-pipe, and his business ventures include an eponymous line of clothing.
While there's no question that White and other celebrity athletes have a passion for their sport, experts say it can be surprising to find out how difficult it is financially for some athletes to even get to the Olympics.
"It is really a disconnection between the enormous value of the games compared to the degree to which some portion of the competitors really continue to do this for love and not for money," said Ellen Staurowsky, a professor of sport management at Drexel University.
This year, Staurowsky said, many athletes turned to online fundraising sites like RallyMe and GoFundMe to ask friends and strangers for help, often in return for a personalized thank-you, poster or other trinket.
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The monetary struggles can be particularly tough for those who must train for years to reach the Olympic level and may be competing against athletes from countries whose governments provide funding or more generous sponsorship deals.