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How much for an Olympic gold medal?

A Singapore athlete who strikes gold at an Olympic Games can look forward to a million-dollar reward under the Multi-Million Dollar Awards Programme. But would this make up for the investment needed for preparations in the four years between Olympic Games?

SINGAPORE: When it comes to investing in Olympic gold medals, Britain seems to have found the best formula -- the country won just one gold at the 1996 Olympics, on a threadbare budget.

It then received a S$127 million windfall in the form of funding from the National Lottery -- this led to 11 gold medals in Sydney four years later in 2000. Greater investment of S$148 million ahead of Athens 2004 brought back nine gold medals.

Funding then more than tripled to S$498 million for the Beijing Olympics, delivering 19 gold medals.

Britain then won 29 gold medals when more cash -- S$558 million -- was ploughed in ahead of London 2012.

However, some believe money is not everything when it comes to achieving sporting excellence.

Robert Gambardella, chief of the Singapore Sports Institute, said: "Money is a part of the overall equation. We just don't think that money alone is the panacea for success. It's the total infrastructure for sustainable sport development that we think is important.

"When you have an infusion of resources, it does enhance the overall infrastructure, and then you can see an increment on performance."

The Olympic Pathway Programme (OPP) was launched in 2009 with the aim of providing more support for athletes ahead of London 2012. As part of the programme, some S$5 million was spent on 11 athletes. In return, Singapore won two bronze medals, both through table tennis. The OPP has since been replaced by the SpexScholarship, which Sport Singapore said provides more rounded support for athletes.

Under the SpexScholarship, an athlete training for the Olympics can expect to receive about S$90,000 a year.

Experts said that it can take up to 10 years for a promising athlete to reach medal contention.

While Singapore swimmers have not delivered an Olympic medallist, they have come close. And it has not always been money that has made the difference.

Jeffrey Leow, president of the Singapore Swimming Association, said: "Tao Li is a perfect example. Her best result was in 2008 in Beijing, where she was fifth in the 100m butterfly.

"She was not considered good enough to be on the OPP at the time, interestingly, and she had her best ever performance then. In 2012, she was on the OPP, spent a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year on various things like overseas training, and didn't perform well at all."

An elite swimmer can expect to spend more than S$80,000 a year, on things like equipment -- which can cost up to S$8,000 -- as well as overseas training and competitions, which will require an average of about S$25,000 per swimmer each year.

For swimmers like Joseph Schooling, who will study and train at an American university, school fees can set an athlete back up to S$67,000.

This comes up to more than S$80,000 a year.

In many cases involving elite athletes, expenses are subsidised by the National Sports Association, scholarships, endorsement deals and ad-hoc funding by Sport Singapore.

There are also less tangible factors.

Mr Leow said: "When you start, you're not good enough to be funded yet. You've got to be able to take some knocks. The thing about competitions is most of the time when you start off, you're losing.

"You've got to have enough mental resilience and determination to want to come back... at least 10 to 20 times before you get to the point where you're winning."

It is not all about the dollars and cents -- blood, sweat and tears also go into each medal-winning experience.

But if you really want to buy an actual Olympic gold medal, you can get one on eBay for several thousand dollars. 

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