When you think of swimming, you probably think of epic performances on the world stage…the best athletes in the world duking it out for gold and the spot as the best in the world.
We recently compared pro swimmers’ bankroll to other professional athletes including basketball and tennis, and the money didn’t stack up.
Despite the lackluster sponsorship deals in swimming compared to other sports, some swimmers have managed to make it big and rake in the cash anyways.
Today we’re going to break down how the world’s richest swimmers made their money.
10. Katinka Hosszú
Kicking off our list is Katinka Hosszú. The Iron Lady has been a dominant force on the world stage since the early 2000s. She has competed in five Olympic Games!
In fact, Katinka was the first swimmer, male or female to earn over $1 million from prize money alone. That’s pretty impressive! But considering that she has four Olympic medals and over 40 world championship medals, it makes complete sense.
In addition to her swimming career, Katinka also owns ISL Team Iron as well as Iron Swim Budapest, a club team in her home country of Hungary.
In the winter of 2021, she is releasing a documentary about her swimming career: Katinka the Movie!
Her net worth is estimated to be somewhere north of $1.5 million. Forbes has named Katinka the most valuable Hungarian athlete six separate times, meaning that she is the best at leveraging her brand and making money outside the pool.
9. Ian Thorpe
Ian Thorpe is one of Australia’s most successful Olympians. With five gold medals, he’s tied with fellow swimmer Emma McKeon for the most golds won by a single athlete in any sport. His net worth is expected to be over $2 million.
It’s estimated that Ian earned around $135,000 Australian dollars for all nine of his Olympic medals, plus additional prize money from international competitions like world championships.
After the 2000 Olympics, Ian capitalized on his fame and diversified his income streams. He launched a line of luxury jewelry and underwear!
During his career, he was sponsored by Adidas, as well as Australian powerhouse companies Qantas, Telstra and Seven Network. He also dabbled in television, hosting a few reality shows and even appearing as an extra on the popular show Friends!
In the early 2000s, Ian signed an equity deal with So Natural Foods for an estimated $1.1 million Australian dollars. The deal included the Thorpedo energy drink, which featured Ian’s face on the bottle.
After retiring from swimming, Ian wrote an autobiography, which likely came with a hefty advance. He’s also recently worked as an ambassador for Armani, and has gotten into filmmaking.
8. Nathan Adrian
American sprinter Nathan Adrian is next on our list. He’s projected to be worth between $2 and $4 million dollars.
Over the course of his swimming career, Nathan earned eight total Olympic medals: five gold, one silver and two bronze. Up until the 2020 Games, the United States paid out $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. On top of that, USA Swimming gave medalists a massive payout: $75,000 for a gold, $50,000 for silver and $15,000 for bronze.
With all that in mind, Nathan took home roughly $435,000 for winning his medals. Not too shabby! And that doesn’t include the cash he earned from winning nearly 20 world championship medals, too.
Beyond his prize money, Nathan expanded his earning potential with sponsorships. He is sponsored by Speedo, the USA Swimming Foundation and a nonprofit called Right to Play. He’s also done a few sponsored social media posts on Instagram, which likely bring in a few thousand dollars each.
In 2019, Nathan and fellow swimmer Will Copeland purchased AC Swim Club in San Rafael, California. We’re not sure what’s next for Nathan. Will he try for Paris 2024? We’ll just have to wait and see…
7. Adam Peaty
Next up is Adam Peaty, who is estimated to be worth between $2-5 million. The British swimmer is a beast in the pool and has been dominating the breaststroke events on the world stage since 2014.
British swimmers aren’t paid for winning Olympic medals like athletes from some other countries, so Adam has to earn money from other international competitions as well as corporate sponsorships.
He can count on prize money from FINA world championship events, as well as the ISL. He brought home about $97,000 from the 2020 ISL competition and $70,000 from 2019 FINA World Championships.
Beyond his sponsorships with Arena, Cupra, Castore Sportswear and more, Adam owns Adam Peaty Race Clinics, which hosts in-person stroke technique workshops for young swimmers around the UK.
Adam also has a YouTube channel, which likely brings in a small amount of money from ad revenue. In the summer of 2021, he announced that he would be competing on the popular television show Strictly Come Dancing! Maybe he will discover a new career path as a dancer…but we hope he sticks to the pool!
Adam has already made millions of dollars in his career and has positioned himself to make millions more.
6. Caeleb Dressel
Up next we have Caeleb Dressel, who proved himself as the sprint king in Tokyo! His net worth is estimated to be between $3-5 million so far, and with the way his career is going, we can anticipate that to increase quite a bit in the next five to 10 years.
Caeleb rakes in prize money at nearly every competition he competes in. At the 2019 World Championships, he went home with $110,000! And in the 2020 ISL season alone, Caeleb came home with $291,766 in prize money.
At the 2020 Games in Tokyo, he earned about $562,000 for his five gold medals between the payouts from the US government and USA Swimming. As we saw with other American swimming medalists, the US government pays out $37,500 for a gold medal and USA Swimming gives another separate bonus of $75,000 for a gold medal.
Caeleb is sponsored by Speedo, Coca Cola, No Bull, Comcast, Google and more. Toyota also sponsors him, and by the looks of his cars, they gifted him a couple of sweet rides too.
But that’s not all. In 2020, Caeleb launched an online course that shared his training philosophy with young swimmers around the world. He also has a YouTube channel that brings in some cash each year, too.
5. Katie Ledecky
Distance queen Katie Ledecky is number five on our list. She is estimated to be worth over $4 million.
After her insane performance at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Katie went home with $335,000 in medal payouts alone. She was able to keep this cash without hurting her eligibility requirements for NCAA competition. She did, however, turn down an estimated $5 million in additional sponsorship opportunities so she could continue to compete for Stanford University.
Two years later, Katie went pro and signed a six-year, $7 million deal with TYR. She also has sponsorships with Adidas, Panasonic, Visa, Reese’s and, of course, chocolate milk!
For speaking opportunities, Katie can charge between $50,000 and $100,000 per event. Raking in that cash!
4. Ryan Lochte
If Katie Ledecky is raking in the cash, Ryan Lochte is an example of how you can lose it. His net worth is estimated to be between $6 and $8 million. During the peak of his career, he earned up to $2.3 million a year from sponsors including Gillette, Speedo, Gatorade and Ralph Lauren. Makes sense, as he is one of the most successful swimmers in history, second only to Michael Phelps in number of medals.
In the wake of the 2012 Olympics, Ryan starred in his own reality show, “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” and also appeared on a few television shows, including 30 Rock and 90210.
After the scandal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Ryan lost all four of his major sponsors and had to live more conservatively.
Later that year, he appeared on Dancing with the Stars. It has been estimated that celebrities who appear on the show are paid at least $125,000 for the season.
In 2017, TYR signed Ryan, in what was his first sponsorship deal since the “Lochte-gate” scandal. In recent years, he has appeared on various TV shows including Celebrity Family Feud and Celebrity Big Brother. But don’t worry about Ryan, he’s getting by just fine and still enjoying the sport!
3. Sarah Sjöström
While Ryan Lochte has expanded his horizons to TV to earn his cash, Swedish powerhouse Sarah Sjöström is doing pretty well for herself with the traditional sponsorships and prize money route. Estimates of her net worth vary widely, from around $2 million to as high as $12 million!
Like Great Britain, Sweden doesn’t pay big money for winning medals. But thankfully, Sarah dominates on the international circuit and rakes in the prize money!
During the 2018 World Cup circuit, Sarah earned over $250,000. And at 2019 worlds, she took home $70,000 in prize money. The 2020 ISL season earned her about $174,000.
She’s sponsored by Arena as well as a multiple food and beverage companies.
2. Mark Spitz
When you think about the richest swimmers, you probably don’t think back to the 1970s! Coming in at number two, Mark Spitz is one of the world’s most successful swimmers, and his net worth is estimated at about $20 million.
After winning seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, Mark made the most of his newfound fame.
He earned about $7 million from sponsorships and endorsements in the two years following the 1972 Games. That was big money back in the day! In Mark’s words, $1 million in 1972 is like $10 million today.
After retiring from swimming, Mark made his way onto the screen, acting in various television shows, appearing in commercials and working as a sports commentator.
He also does numerous speaking engagements around the world each year. He charges between $30,000 and $50,000 for a single speaking appearance! He also started a successful real estate company in Beverly Hills and works as a stock broker.
1. Michael Phelps
And last but certainly not least…the GOAT himself. We don’t think it surprises anyone to find that Michael Phelps is the world’s richest professional swimmer. His career was epic! 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold. Countless world records and dozens of historic moments. And lots and lots of cash.
It’s estimated that Michael is worth between $55 and $80 million!
According to Essentially Sports, Michael only earned about $1.9 million directly from his swimming career. In 2008 when Michael won eight gold medals, he was awarded a $1 million bonus from Speedo which he used to start his own foundation. American swimmers earned $100,000 in total for a gold medal in 2016, Michael’s last Olympic Games.
The majority of his fortune came from brand partnerships, bonuses and endorsements. And that’s still the case today! It’s estimated that Michael earns just shy of $10 million a year from brand deals alone! And that’s not his only stream of income.
He also has his own brand of swimwear, does sponsored social media posts and has written two books. If you want Michael to come speak at your next event, expect to pay around $100,000 or more!
With a fortune like that, Michael lives large. And he deserves it!
Looking ahead, we can expect swimmers to start earning more money in the years to come. With the ISL shelling out millions of dollars in prize money each season and FINA expected to award over $3 million in prize money at the 2021 Short Course World Championships, more athletes have an opportunity to make swimming a viable career path. And we can’t wait to watch it unfold! Let us know what you think in the comments.