Those medals handed to our winners can translate to millions. But not always.

There's nothing like the glow of a shiny gold medal around a Kiwi athlete's neck. Almost nothing.

Because there's also the glow beaming out from our screens when one of our own does something so special it transcends everything - even the all-consuming thrill of gold - to capture our hearts for entirely different reasons.

Think of what Kiwi runner Nikki Hamblin did in the 5000m heats at Maracana Stadium this week. Images of Hamblin and her American rival Abbey D'Agostino helping each other finish the race went global after their heart-breaking tumble. Thousands of words were written about the pair's contribution to the famed, but not always evident, Olympic spirit.

But beyond the soaring praise from around the world, is there a dollar figure attached to the 28-year-old's ­actions? She got a heartfelt hug from ­D'Agostino on the finish line, but will companies offer her sponsorship and endorsements? Or is it a medal or nothing?

Certainly international media were doing the maths the moment the world's fastest man with the cheekiest grin had dashed to gold at Rio. Jamaican wonderman Usain Bolt ran for 9.81 seconds - potentially earning $1m a second in terms of prize money,  sponsorship and advertising.


Saatchi and Saatchi New Zealand head of strategy David McIndoe isn't convinced that gold medals are essential. Endorsements are about ­familiarity, he says, and, yes, gold medals are a short-cut to that.

But profile can come without the golden moment on the podium, McIndoe says. "Having a sense of character goes a long way, having something people can trust in." Golds are great, he says, but so are performances that secure a sports person in New Zealand folklore, like Lance Cairns scoring six 6s against Australia in 1983.

"We lost that game by a huge amount, but no one remembers that.

"Whether it's tenacity or spirit, those are some of the values that New Zealanders absolutely love."

However, University of Auckland senior lecturer in marketing, Dr Mike Lee, doubts Hamblin's act of sportsmanship will earn her more than respect.
She will be seen as a nice person but "it's not like a person had a heart attack and she stopped the race to help them. It might just get her an extra couple of interviews," he says. Companies want to bask in the reflected glory of a winner, he says.

Endorsements are dished out based on a model known as Tears, Lee says. ­Athletes are assessed for trustworthiness, expertise in their field, ­attractiveness (physical and ­social), the level of respect held for them and their similarity to the ­target ­audience. The latter is why young female athletes are so popular he says, because young womens' purchasing decisions are influenced by those they admired.

"A 40 or 50-year-old bloke at home, he's just going to say, 'Good on you, mate' [to a medal winner]. Guys just don't care about those things, we're not going to change what we're going to buy based on it."

Britain's golden cycling couple, Jason Kenny and Laura Trott, are proof that medals don't necessarily maketh the money. Trott, 24, with her blonde plaits and winning smile, has sponsors lining up at her door.

Kenny, on the other hand, has so far failed to attract sponsors even though he earned multiple golds at Rio adding to those he won at the games in Beijing and London. But although the 28-year-old has earned more golds than Trott, he relies on lottery funding to finance his career as an elite athlete.

Lee says athletes who win silver or bronze may also be approached by companies linked to their sport or hometown. This could be the case for ­surprise silver medallists such as shooter Natalie Rooney and Luuka Jones, who won second place in the canoe slalom, he says.

Two teens who also made their mark at Rio - 7th placed trampolinist Dylan Schmidt and pole-vaulter Eliza McCartney - may also catch the eye of Kiwi companies keen to get behind future stars.

"They are once again attractive, young and fit and great aspirational role models," says Lee.

However, he thinks the hottest property will be sailing pair Blair Tuke and Peter Burling. They smashed the competition in the men's 49er class, securing gold with a race to spare.

They were flag-bearers at the opening ceremony and are rising stars of Team New Zealand's 2017 America's Cup campaign.

McIndoe is picking double gold medallist kayaker Lisa Carrington as the one likely to be most in demand. But he too thinks those who just missed will also do well, including silver medallist Valerie Adams.

Natalie Rooney picks up New Zealand's first medal of the Rio games after winning Silver in the womens trap shooting. Photo / Photosport
Natalie Rooney picks up New Zealand's first medal of the Rio games after winning Silver in the womens trap shooting. Photo / Photosport

The Beijing and London Olympic champion wasn't able to shot-put her way into history with a third gold, but silver won't hurt Adams' brand, McIndoe says.

"New Zealand is not a win-at-all-costs sort of country. We take a lot of value in Val's grace and how she handled the situation, and she's a champion anyway."

Similarly, Lee says double Olympic gold medallist Sir Mark Todd's value will be ­unaffected by the New Zealand equestrian team's disappointing fourth place in Rio. "He is a completely different story. He has got a proven track record, he's been knighted. He's a legend. Absolutely I think people would be interested in associating with him simply because of the heritage he has."

Even fourth-placed single­-sculler Emma Twigg, who this week came within half a second of a bronze medal, mirroring her placing in London four years ago, could find herself in demand.

"There's a story there, there's an angle in everything," says ­McIndoe.

But there's no doubt winning a gold medal and the hearts of a country can lead to big earnings. The fortunes of British swimming hero Adam Peaty looked set to change the moment he smashed his own world ­record and won the men's 100m breaststroke.

Sports consultants estimate the 21-year-old's earnings could be worth up to $2.7m a year after his Olympic victory. Phenomenal US swimmer ­Michael Phelps, who has ­powered his way to 23 gold medals over four ­Olympic games, has an estimated fortune of $69m, earnings that are likely to soar after his ­performance at Rio - five golds and a silver.
Similarly, extraordinary American gymnast Simone Biles, who had spectators and judges alike gasping in awe, will be well on her way to ­becoming a multi-millionaire.
But of the 11,000 athletes who competed in Rio, only a small proportion will return home with medals and the chance of a well-funded career.

For every success story, there are hundreds of tales of woe, hardship, disappointment and failure. American ­Ronda Rousey collected bronze for her prowess in judo in Beijing in 2008 - but a few months later was living out of her Honda Accord.

Another Olympic medalist, Debi Thoma became the first African American to win a figure skating medal, capturing bronze at the Calgary Olympics of 1988. Now Thomas lives in a mobile home and isn't even sure where to find her skates or her medals.

For others, it is just simply disappointment - often devastating - after years of dedication and hard slog, only to be cheated out of a medal by a fraction of a second.
Often the sacrifice is a family affair, with any spare money channelled into the budding athlete's training and gear. Peaty's mother Caroline got up at 4am each day to drive her son 40 minutes to training, waited for him before going to work and then repeated the trip in the evening. Schmidt's parents regularly drove him from Waihi to Auckland for trampoline training.

For the vast majority of those 11,000 athletes, their moment in the sun is simply qualifying for and making it to the Olympics - and striving not to end up broke at the end of it.

- Additional reporting The Guardian