Who wants to be a millionaire? U.S. swimmers do

Brooke Bennett will be the favorite to win the 800-freestyle gold again in 2004 and win the million dollar bonus for a world record  Credit: Gary M. Prior/Allsport
USA Swimming is offering $3 million in performance bonuses to two distance swimmers and their coaches at the next Summer Olympics.

Chuck Wielgus, executive director of USA Swimming, said this week the federation is close to completing a plan to pay $1 million to any U.S. woman who wins the 800-meter freestyle in world-record time at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

The same offer stands for any man who does it in the 1,500-meter freestyle, and $500,000 will go to their coaches, providing the coach has worked with the swimmer for at least two years.

The 800-meter freestyle is the longest race offered for women, and the 1,500 the longest for men.

Brooke Bennett blew away the field at the Sydney Games in September, winning the 800-meter gold in an Olympic-record time of 8:19.67. The world record is 8:16.20 set by Janet Evans in 1989.

Swimming has paid $50,000 for each gold medal, $25,000 for silvers and $15,000 for bronzes in the last two Olympics, but $1 million is the largest single bonus it ever has offered.

"Our basic thinking was to find some way to entice good young swimmers to become great distance swimmers," Wielgus said.

The plan has been approved by swimming's board of directors. An insurance contract against the payoff, which will cost about $300,000, is still being negotiated but will be signed "by the end of the week," Wielgus said.

The fee was lower when swimming first started shopping the plan last summer, Wielgus said, but after Erik Vendt and Chris Thompson twice lowered the American record in the 1500, and Bennett set an Olympic record in the 800, "the quotes have been rising on a steady basis."

The last U.S. woman to win the Olympic 800 with a world record was Keena Rothhammer in 1972. Brian Goodell did it in the 1500 in 1976.

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