CHICAGO (Reuters) - An athlete nicknamed after a tomato because of his flaming red hair and a regal South Korean figure skater head the Forbes list of top earning Winter Olympic athletes.
Shaun White, the top U.S. snowboarder, and South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na both earned $8 million last year, leading all athletes for the Winter games, according to Forbes magazine. The list excluded all salaried professional athletes, including players from the National Hockey League.
White, known to many as “The Flying Tomato” because of his long red hair, is a favorite to repeat as a gold medalist at the Winter Games in Vancouver this month. Among his sponsors are such companies as Target Corp, Red Bull, Oakley and AT&T Inc.
Kim, the reigning world champion and known as “Queen Yu-na,” is South Korea’s hope for its first figure skating gold medal. The 19-year-old’s sponsors include Hyundai Motor Co, Procter & Gamble Co and Nike Inc. Forbes previously named her the most powerful celebrity in South Korea for 2009.
Rounding out the top five were skiers Lindsey Vonn ($3 million) and Ted Ligety ($2 million), and speed skater and “Dancing with the Stars” 2007 champion Apolo Anton Ohno ($1.5 million), Forbes said.
Olympic athletes rely more on corporate backers for their earnings than winnings from competition, but the recent downturn has made it harder to turn gold medals into lucrative sponsorship deals, the magazine said.
Forbes looked at earnings derived from prize money, endorsements, licensing income and bonuses in 2009 and does not deduct for taxes or agents' fees. The magazine's full list can be found here
Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Tim Dobbyn