For years, American Paralympians have amazed the world with their athletic ability and determination to reach the heights of their sport. But when they compete in the Tokyo games, it will mark the first time that Paralympic athletes will know that their compensation for winning a medal matches their Olympic counterparts.
A ruling by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) in the fall of 2018 brought the equity Paralympians fought for and deserved. The program, called Operation Gold Awards by the USOC, raised the prize money for medal winners in the future but also retroactively awarded Paralympians who won medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games. So Pyeongchang’s medalists were compensated equally, but after the fact.
Before this change went into effect, the difference in prize money between the teams was significant.
U.S. Olympians earn $37,500 for a gold medal, $22,500 for a silver medal and $15,000 for a bronze medal. However, before the ruling in 2018, U.S. Paralympians earned a fraction of that, The New York Times reported: $7,500 for gold, $5,250 for silver and $3,750 for a bronze medal.
“Paralympians are an integral part of our athlete community and we need to ensure we’re appropriately rewarding their accomplishments,” USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a statement in 2018. “Our financial investment in U.S. Paralympics and the athletes we serve is at an all-time high, but this was one area where a discrepancy existed in our funding model that we felt needed to change.”
Paralympians celebrated the long-awaited news on social media at the time. Oksana Masters, an eight-time Paralympic medalist who competes in cycling, skiing, rowing and shooting, posted an emotional response shortly after the USOC announced the change, saying she was in tears reading about it.
As I was reading this tears literally were streaming down my face not only bc of the equal pay for @Paralympics medals to @USParalympics athlete but the value and worth of Para athletes finally viewed equal to @Olympics. This is absolutely LIFE changing @TeamUSA thank you https://t.co/UIj17q1IuO
— Oksana Masters (@OksanaMasters) September 22, 2018
Beyond the pay equity issue, the USOC made another important step towards uniting Team USA when it merged the social media platforms of the U.S. Olympic team and the U.S. Paralympic team back in 2020.
“We’ve always been one team, soon to be one channel,” tweeted the U.S. Paralympics account. “Follow @TeamUSA.”
— U.S. Paralympics (@USParalympics) June 20, 2020
The 2020 Paralympic Summer Games in Tokyo will begin on Aug. 25, 2021, and conclude on Sept. 5. Stay tuned for updates on our amazing Team USA, and make sure to cheer them on!