LONDON - China's Communist Party leaders won't just be showering their athletes with praise for bringing home an Olympic medal. Cold, hard cash will also rain down on the champions who bring glory to the homeland. China's central government paid their athletes a 350,000 yuan ($54,900) bonus for winning gold at the Beijing Games, an increase of 150,000 yuan from Athens in 2004, and is expected to trump that for those who top the podium in London.

The national sports ministry has yet to say exactly how much will be given out, but denied local media reports of a 500,000 yuan bonanza. Whatever the amount, it will be only a small fraction of the potential windfall for athletes given that their home provinces and towns also feel compelled to shell out. "The rewards for the Beijing Games were particularly generous," Fan Ye, a former world champion gymnast and 2004 Olympian, told Reuters. "Some athletes got 6-7 million yuan if they won two golds. The provinces always compete with each other. If Guangdong says it would give so much, Zhejiang would want to offer more as they think they're richer," the retired gymnast said, referring to two relatively affluent coastal provinces.

Like other countries' Olympic champions, Chinese athletes can expect to further feather their nests with new sponsorship deals with private companies. But many will already have pocketed a small fortune from the state for bringing prestige to their home towns and provinces.

Northern Shaanxi province, the home of China's World Heritage-listed 'Terracotta Warriors', has promised their athletes 600,000 yuan for every gold they bring back from London, state media reported in June. Two-time Olympic champion diver Qin Kai, who trained in Shaanxi's provincial capital Xian, can already expect to cash in after he won the men's three-metre synchronised springboard gold with partner Luo Yutong at the London Games.

He also stands to collect another 300,000 yuan for taking silver behind Russia's Ilya Zakharov in the individual three-metre springboard, according to the incentive scheme. Yichang, a bustling port city on China's Yangtze river near the controversial Three Gorges dam, has tripled its bonuses from 100,000 to 300,000 yuan for Olympic champions. That's good news for hometown girl Zhao Yunlei, who won a mixed doubles badminton gold at Wembley Arena last week and another in the women's doubles. Zhao can expect another hefty bonus from her native province of Hubei.