But for Tim Burke, a top-ranked American athlete in the ski-and-shoot sport of biathlon, an agent is a luxury that's not in the budget.
Part of the reason is biathlon's relatively low profile in the U.S., he said, compounded by the fact that no American has ever medaled in an Olympic biathlon event.
"It's a hugely popular sport in Germany and Norway," Burke said. "But I'm an American in a predominantly European sport."
According to Max Cobb, CEO of the U.S. Biathlon Organization, a top U.S. biathlete like Burke may be able to earn between $50,000 and $60,000 a year through a combination of government stipends, sponsorships and prize money from World Cup events.
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That livable but less-than-princely income has meant that throughout his career, Burke—who had a disappointing showing in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics—has approached potential patrons via hundreds of personal cold calls and emails.
Though he receives about an 80 percent response rate, he said, relatively few sponsorships have materialized.
"Through a cold call or a cold email, that's really tough," Burke said. "I've probably been turned down 100 times."