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Medals, ratings, fame - but where's the money?

WHILE Sally Pearson and her manager mull over the sponsorship offers and opportunities piling up at their feet following her Olympic triumph, Paralympic long jump champion Kelly Cartwright is just hoping to be able to quit her job as a receptionist.

Cartwright, considered one of the most marketable of Australia's hugely successful Paralympic team, can expect to command at least $5000 for an appearance on the corporate and motivational speaking circuit when she returns from London.

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And as a face of the Australian Paralympic team leading into the Games, she is also understood to have received an undisclosed lump sum payment for her time and services for team sponsors Qantas, Telstra, Swisse and 2xU.

But whether her success will allow her to leave behind part-time work and concentrate on training to the extent that Pearson can is another matter entirely.

Because while the London Games may have taken the Paralympic movement to new levels of popularity in terms of television audiences and ticket sales, the stark reality for athletes such as Cartwright, swimmer Matt Cowdrey and sprinter Evan O'Hanlon is that not even 15 gold medals can guarantee financial stability.

''There's just not the dollars out there for it,'' two-time Athens cycling gold medallist Peter Brooks said. ''There's no example of an [Paralympic] athlete who's been successful in their sport and been able to convert that to dollars.''


Brooks would know. Two gold and one bronze medal earned him about $30,000 worth of bikes and shoes - but no cash - over a six-year period from sponsor Cannondale, as well as $500 each time he appeared for Australian team sponsor Westpac.

Prospects have improved greatly for athletes in the eight years since his successes but not to any great extent.

''Regardless of their success, they're just not a marketable product and until someone turns around and says 'we're going to change this' they won't be,'' Brooks said.

''Instead of giving $3 million to [Olympic silver medallist] James Magnussen - he appears on all sorts of endorsements all over the television - why not give Matt Cowdrey $100,000 and he can go on TV. He'd be just as inspiring and he's actually come up with the goods.''

Former Paralympic track and field athlete Donnie Elgin is trying to turn things around. Elgin won silver and two bronze in Athens and a bronze medal in Sydney and now runs StarAmp Global, a talent management company set up specifically for disabled athletes.

Elgin says his star athlete Cartwright has a strong chance of extending the Qantas sponsorship of the Australian team into a lasting individual partnership.

''There are no contracts signed but the relationship is very exciting,'' Elgin said. ''If she doesn't become Australia's first million-dollar Paralympian I'll give you my good leg.''