Canadian kayaker Adam van Koeverden could pocket a lot of money if he earns a medal at next year's Olympics in China. ((Frank Augstein/Associated Press))

Canadian athletes will receive cash rewards for winning medals at the Olympic Games.

The Canadian Olympic Committee announced the decision Monday as it prepared for the Summer Games next August in Beijing.

It's the first time Canada's athletes will be paid for winning medals at the high-performance competitions.

The move will be appreciated by athletes struggling to make ends meet, says Olympic kayaker Adam van Koeverden.

"You don't want to make your athletes starve and keep your athletes starving," van Koeverden said at a hotel in Ottawa.

He said training needs to be treated like a career.

"If you want me to go and compete with the world's best, then I've got to be able to train like the world's best," he said. "And I don't think I should have to live in poverty in order to accomplish my goals."

Athletes will receive up to $20,000 per medal at the Games, with the highest amount paid to those who win gold.

Offering an incentive program to the best performers has been debated — and rejected — in Canada for over two decades as Canadian athletes watched other countries reward their athletes with varying amounts of money for gaining medals.

However, the COC decided recently to concentrate its efforts more on achieving results at Olympic Games and less on spreading money thinly across a wide range of programs.

The committee believes it has found the right mix of training assistance and cash incentives with its new Athlete Excellence Fund, says COC president Michael Chambers.

"It varies wildly (in other countries, from) huge amounts to lesser amounts than we provide," said Chambers.

"But in most of those other countries that have large rewards, at the end of the trip if you win a Games, they have very little in the way of development programs leading into the Games," he said.

"So it's all or nothing. That's not where we wanted to go."

The athlete support and reward program is a way to compensate high-performance athletes for the financial burdens they often face while training for Olympic Games, the COC said in a statement.

While gold medals will garner the highest amount, silver medal winners would be paid $15,000 and bronze medal winners $10,000.

The performance awards will apply to all Olympic sports, and will be the same whether athletesare in a team or individual sport.

The first athletes to qualify for the awards will compete in Beijing next year. Canada will have roughly 300 athletes performing in 28 sporting events at those Games.

With files from the Canadian Press