BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / Getty Images

Despite McDonald's ending its partnership with the Olympics, McDonald's Korea will continue to indulge the appetites of PyeongChang's athletes. 

Elisabeth Sherman
February 09, 2018

There are many perks to being an Olympic athlete: The medals, the world travels, the adoring fans whom they inspire and encourage. Also, there’s the free fast food. For the past 41 years, McDonald’s has been an official sponsor of the Olympic games, but last year that partnership abruptly came to an end. Will that stop the South Korean arm of the chain from giving out free food to athletes? No, not at all.

Last summer, McDonald’s decided to end its three-year contract with the Olympics early—the company had originally intended to continue sponsoring the games up until the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo. In recent years the IOC has faced criticism that sponsors like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola conflict with the healthy lifestyle that most athletes promote and embody.

McDonald’s will still be allowed to have a presence in Pyeongchang this year, however, and it’s capitalizing on the opportunity by opening two locations in Gangneung—one of which is shaped like a burger and fries. Those locations will still offer free meals to the competing athletes. Demand for those Big Macs is so high, in fact, that during the 2016 Olympic Games, McDonald’s actually had to put a cap on the number of items an athlete is allowed to order at one time at 20.

For the average person, 20 McDonald’s menu items at once might seem like a lot of food, but remember that these athletes are training into the early hours of the morning, making demands of their bodies us non-Olympians probably can’t even imagine. As Michael Phelps recently told Food & Wine, at the height of his career he was eating as many as 10,000 calories per day—and a few cheeseburgers and boxes of chicken nuggets goes a long way in contributing to that lofty number.

While Phelps explains that he tried to be as healthy as possibly during the games, only indulging after he checked out of the Olympic village, his attitude at least seems as though it’s unique: McDonald’s is so popular among the athletes, the company literally had to tell them to stop ordering so much food. Maybe that will put things in perspective next time you’re feeling guilty about stopping by McDonald’s for a Big Mac (or two).