“Just look at swimming,” said Peter Carlisle of Octagon, a sports marketing firm in McLean, Va. “One of the most popular sports at the Olympics, and there are a lot of U.S. gold medals in swimming. If you’re an American, you need to stand out, you need to be distinguishable. There’s no way all the gold medal American swimmers will wind up in the mainstream market.”

If even athletes in big-time sports have trouble getting paid in the United States, imagine the fate of winners of obscure gold in smaller countries. Michele Frangilli of Italy just beat all comers in men’s archery. Let’s just say that he is not expecting that his next car will be a Lamborghini…

The trick is to be introduced to the public before your event takes place, so that the public knows you pre-triumph. To qualify for that kind of TV time, you need a personal tale that wins the attention of NBC producers, who, courtesy of their broadcasting rights, are arguably the real king makers here.

“Maybe your parents were working three jobs to pay for your training,” said Brant Feldman, a sports agent. “Or maybe you were born in the U.S. but your parents are illegal immigrants. Marketers want to sell your gold medal attributes but they also need a back story to help them sell products to Middle America.”