Usain Bolt entered the 2008 Summer Olympics as somewhat of a curiosity. Yes, he had recently set the world record in the 100-meter dash, but few people outside the track and field world knew much about the 6-foot-5 Jamaican. He had excelled at the 200-meter distance, but was relatively new to the 100-meter event. His only sponsors before Beijing were Puma, which signed Bolt to a small deal in 2003, and Digicel, a Jamaican mobile phone company.
Three gold medals and three world records later, Bolt left Beijing as one of the most famous athletes on the planet. He set records in the 100 and 200, becoming the first man to capture Olympic gold in both events since Carl Lewis in 1984. He was part of the 4×100 meter Jamaican relay team that shattered the world record on the way to another gold. Life has never been the same for the world’s fastest man.
As Bolt’s fame soared, his paycheck took off as well. Bolt earned an estimated $20.3 million over the last 12-months from prize money, bonuses, appearance fees and sponsors. He ranks No. 63 among the world’s highest-paid athletes. Bolt has a ways to go to challenge LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in terms of earnings, but his income is more than 20 times what other elite sprinters typically make in a year and more than any other athlete in the history of track and field.
Bolt inked endorsement deals with Gatorade, Swiss watchmaker Hublot and Virgin Media after Beijing. Visa signed him to an agreement and splashed Bolt’s image on billboards across Europe, where track and field remains a popular sport. Visa is in position to use Bolt in ads during London as an official sponsor of the Olympic Games.
Soul Electronics signed a deal with Bolt this year and he will develop his own line of headphones for the company. He added a multimillion dollar pact in June with Nissan Motor, which plans to use Bolt in a global ad campaign. He released his autobiography, “9:58: Being the World’s Fastest Man,” in 2010, and another book is in the works for after London.
Bolt’s biggest paycheck comes courtesy of Puma, where he is the global face of the German sportswear company. Puma re-signed Bolt in 2010 to a deal worth $9 million annually. It is an astronomical sum for a track athlete and on par with what only a handful of the most marketable basketball, soccer and tennis stars receive…
Read more: Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes, Yahoo