Olympics: Key moments in path from amateurism to professionalism

World Athletics will award prize money to gold medal winners at the Paris Games

By Reuters

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Carl Lewis of the USA flies through the air during the final of the men's long jump competition at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Lewis broke 13 world records in his career, won 9 Olympic gold medals and 8 world titles. — AFP file
Carl Lewis of the USA flies through the air during the final of the men's long jump competition at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Lewis broke 13 world records in his career, won 9 Olympic gold medals and 8 world titles. — AFP file

Published: Wed 10 Apr 2024, 8:40 PM

Athletics has become the first sport to offer prize money to Olympic champions, announcing on Wednesday that the 48 gold medallists in Paris this year will earn $50,000 each.

Here is the path from amateurism to professionalism at the Olympic Games.


1896 – First modern Olympic Games held in Athens. Winners did not receive gold medals but were awarded a silver medal, an olive branch and a diploma. Those in second place were given a bronze medal, a branch of laurel and a diploma.

Professional athletes were banned from the Games.


1904 - The St. Louis Games were the first modern Olympics to award gold, silver and bronze medals to the to top three finishers.

1913 - American Jim Thorpe, who had won gold medals at the 1912 Olympics pentathlon and decathlon and was hailed as the greatest athlete in the world, was stripped of them after it was discovered he had played professional baseball. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) restored the medals in 1983.

Cold War era - Soviet Union and communist states developed state-backed amateur sport to compete successfully at the Games through effectively full-time athletes.

Countries such as East Germany created state-supported doping programmes with success at the Olympics carrying considerable political capital for the winners.

1980 - Juan Antonio Samaranch was elected IOC President and quickly led the Games from amateurism towards full professionalism for athletes while also opening up the body to commercial operations.

1981 - IOC Congress in Baden-Baden, Germany addresses Rule 26 of the Olympic Charter, which prevented professional athletes from competing.

A final declaration hinted at more flexibility for this rule. Both current World Athletics President Sebastian Coe and IOC President Thomas Bach spoke about how athletes struggled to focus solely on their sport without financial security.

1985 - IOC granted permission for professional tennis, ice hockey and Under-23 soccer players to compete in the 1988 Winter and Summer Games.

1992 - The United States competed in the Barcelona Olympic basketball tournament for the first time with professional players and their Dream Team, including NBA stars Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, becomes one of the Games' lasting images.

2024 - World Athletics will award prize money to gold medal winners at the Paris Games, the first sporting federation to do so.

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