Olympic wrestling medalists and Living the Dream Medal Fund Stewards came together to celebrate the success of the wrestling team at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Photo by Justin Hoch.

By Jerry Milani and Gary Abbott, Special to TheMat.com | Sept. 24, 2021, 10:43 a.m. (ET)

USA Wrestling and the Stewards of the Living the Dream Medal Fund hosted a special function tonight at a private residence in New York City, paying out the first bonuses to the 2020 U.S. Olympic wrestling medalists. Six of the nine Olympic medalist wrestlers received oversized checks as part of the ceremony.

The record $950,000 overall payout is based upon the historic performance of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where the USA came home with three gold medals, two silver medals and four bronze medals. The previous record payout during an Olympic year came in 2016, when the fund paid out $600,000 to wrestling medalist from the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

The funding for the program comes from a group of individual donors who are called Stewards, along with support from USA Wrestling and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

“Wrestling was never a glamour sport, it was never a money sport,” said Founding Steward Mike Novagratz, whose vision sparked this program. “Dave (Barry) and I in ’09 thought we would inject some energy in the sport, put up a big dollar prize out there for a gold medal, and try to draw a lot of people into the sport again. [Now] wrestlers get paid more than any other sport in the Olympics, so it makes us just a little more special. We thought we could do something to keep wrestlers excited but mostly to inject energy into the sport and it’s doing that,” he said.

During Olympic years, the fund provides $250,000 for an Olympic gold medal, $50,000 for an Olympic silver medal and $25,000 for an Olympic bronze medal. For the third straight Olympic Games, the Living the Dream Medal Fund provided wrestlers with the highest level of individual bonuses of any Olympic sport in the United States.

A pair of $250,000 checks went to gold medalists David Taylor and Gable Steveson. The $50,000 checks were presented to silver medalists Adeline Gray and Kyle Snyder. The $25,000 checks went to bronze medalists Kyle Dake and Sarah Hildebrandt.

“The Living the Dream Medal Fund is everything. This is my full-time job and in order to chase this dream it’s so demanding and [takes] so much of my time. This gives me the full opportunity to chase my dream to the fullest extent and let me put my whole heart into my Olympic pursuit. It’s the reason I can chase this dream,” said Hildebrandt.

“It’s something special that the wrestling community came together and are giving back to all of us so we can pursue our dreams,” said Dake. “It’s through their generosity that we are able to compete. I’m 30 years old, I’m in the best shape of my life and feel like I can keep going for another seven years.”

For Snyder, this is his second career Olympic medal after winning a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. He has also won four Senior World medals, including two gold medals, which are also included in the program. At the Senior World Championships, wrestlers receive $50,000 for gold, $25,000 for silver and $15,000 for bronze. Snyder appreciates the support and commitment from the Medal Fund Stewards, which have greatly impacted his career.

“They have taught me a lot. I’ve learned a lot about life and competition and, obviously they helped us financially. But a lot of them are really close friends so I’m super thankful for that relationship,” said Snyder. “It makes a huge difference. People can wrestle longer. I love wrestling and competing and Living the Dream really helps with that.”

The three other medalists, 2020 gold medalist Tamyra Mensah Stock and bronze medalists Thomas Gilman and Helen Maroulis, will be recognized at another function in the future.

The next opportunity for U.S. wrestlers to receive Living the Dream Medal Fund bonuses will be the 2021 Senior World Championships in Oslo, Norway, October 2-10.

Eight of the nine 2020 Olympic medalists will compete in the 2021 Senior Worlds in Oslo, with only Steveson turning down the opportunity. The 2021 U.S. Senior World Team in all three of the Olympic disciplines are training in the New York area this coming week in preparation for the World Championships.

“Any time you get a bunch of wrestlers together it’s a special night. They have the right energy with World Championships in a few weeks and they’re going to be ringing the cash register on our fund again,” said Novogratz.

Since its creation in 2009, the Living the Dream Medal Fund, with the 2020 Olympic Games included, has awarded $3.7 million in bonuses to World and Olympic medalists.

The Living the Dream Medal Fund provides only bonus payments. Wrestling athletes also receive additional support in the form of stipends and performance bonuses at other specific events, as part of their National Team contracts. Many others receive support from professional jobs, club and RTC support, sponsorships and other income sources.

“A lot of these young athletes will stay as coaches, will stay in the sport. $250,000 tax free is a big way to start your life off,” said Novogratz.

$250,000 – Tamyra Mensah-Stock, 2020 women’s freestyle Olympic champion (68 kg)
$250,000 – David Taylor, 2020 men’s freestyle Olympic champion (86 kg)
$250,000 – Gable Steveson, 2020 men’s freestyle Olympic champion (125 kg)
$50,000 – Adeline Gray, 2020 women’s freestyle Olympic silver medal (76 kg)
$50,000 – Kyle Snyder, 2020 men’s freestyle Olympic silver medal (97 kg)
$25,000 – Thomas Gilman, 2020 men’s freestyle Olympic bronze medal (57 kg)
$25,000 – Helen Maroulis, 2020 women’s freestyle Olympic bronze medal (57 kg)
$25,000 – Kyle Dake, 2020 men’s freestyle Olympic bronze medal (74 kg)
$25,000 – Sarah Hildebrandt, 2020 women’s freestyle Olympic bronze medal (50 kg)
Total 2020 Olympic Games payout- $950,000