Mike Storm, like so many American amateur athletes, has always had difficulty paying the rent as well as paying the price on body and soul in training for his specialty, the modern pentathlon.

It is a grueling process: getting fit to fence, to run a 4,000-meter cross country course, to swim a 300-meter freestyle race, to ride a horse over a 600-meter, 15-jump course and to shoot a .22 caliber pistol (one event a day for five days). Almost as demanding has been the struggle to raise money for swimming pool time, for riding and boarding a horse, for ammunition, for replacing the epee blades he breaks so often.

Storm, a University of Pennsylvania graduate who grew up and now lives in Arlington, estimates it will cost him between $15,000 to $18,000 over the next year to train for the 1984 Olympics. His running coach, Arlington's Dick Rader, says he could win a medal and has "unlimited potential."

In the past, Storm's family has helped him financially, and so, too, has the National Modern Pentathlon Association, the sport's governing body. But this year, Storm decided to raise most of the money himself. He visited 30 companies, most in the Washington area, seeking corporate funds. "They were polite," he says, "but nobody was interested."

Undaunted, Storm eventually put together a small syndicate of contributors who provided the funds that will allow him to train full time. The road to Los Angeles is hardly paved in gold, "but it's enough to do the job," he says.

"In a sport like pentathlon, it is impossible to do a serious job of training and to have a full-time job," Storm said. "I do believe athletes should have to live a spartan life. But we need to move in the direction of supporting the top athletes and nurturing the grass-roots programs, or we can't compete with the Eastern European countries, with most most countries really. We're kidding ourselves if we think otherwise."

Amateur athletics have come a long way from the days of the late 19th Century. Then, love of sport was supposed to be an athlete's only motivation and members of the British upper class looked down their pince nez at working-class athletes who trained for competitions and actually melted down their silver cups.

Under-the-table payments to top athletes, particularly in glamor sports such as track and skiing, have gone on for years. Many Eastern bloc nations put their athletes on salary, giving them "jobs" in name only and rewarding them with cash and perks not available to the general populace. "Every time I see my Russian friends, they all ask me to bring them spark plugs for their sports cars," said Storm.

Still, in the last few years, over-the-table money has become acceptable in the United States.

In track and field and many road races, athletes are now running for cash prizes, with the money placed in trust funds that can pay living and training expenses and provide a nest egg when an athlete ends his career. Many other sports are also following suit, much to the dismay of some purists who argue it violates the basic principle of amateur sports.

"Eligibility (for the Olympics) is the bomb that is about to explode," said William Simon, former secretary of the Treasury and now president of the U.S. Olympic Committee. "Let's remove the hypocrisy . . . I'm concerned about the ethical bind we place on athletes to cheat. You and I know most world-class skiers are making a quarter of a million dollars a year. We know about . . . how much money many athletes charge just to show up at a track meet."

In February, Simon sent a letter to Juan Antonio Samaranch, International Olympic Committee president, outlining Simon's views on amateurism.

"Essentially, what I am proposing is a simply stated eligibility rule," Simon wrote. "An athlete shall be eligible to participate in the Olympic Games as an amateur in an Olympic sport unless compensation has been received for such participation, and then the athlete would be ineligible only in that sport."

Simon also proposed that an athlete be allowed to accept remuneration for endorsements, TV appearances, books, articles and clinics. Another proposal would allow a player to sign a professional basketball contract before the Olympics next summer, but be eligible to compete if no money exchanged hands until after the Games. Simon is realistic enough to know that the IOC will hardly rubber-stamp his proposals, but at least, he says, "they are willing to talk about it."

There are other significant developments in amateur athletics--the continued increase in participation of women, the growing number of older athletes competing in Masters programs, the general fitness and running boom--that show no signs of letting up. But money, quite obviously, has become the No. 1 issue.

Ollan Cassell, president of The Athletics Congress (TAC), the governing body in this country for track and field, says the trust-fund concept approved in 1981 by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) "gives our athletes the same opportunity as those in Eastern Europe . . . There is a problem, however, with athletes like Renaldo Nehemiah and Carl Lewis giving up their college eligibility to make money on their own. Now there seems to be a trend with athletes . . . going right from high school into club competition and passing up college."

"All the athletes want open professionalism, with the money paid directly, but we realize life isn't that simple," said Alberto Salazar, the world record holder in the marathon. "It will take time before that happens . . . Track and field is the biggest Olympic sport, and when we change, the others eventually will change, too."

Certainly, the money is there, at least for some athletes. Willie Banks, the U.S. triple jump champion, has been hired by Anheuser-Busch as part of the Olympic job opportunity program, an effort to give employment to athletes with firms that make allowances for training and give employes time off with pay to compete.

"In 1980, I was competing on my own, living from hand to mouth," Banks said. "I had no place to live for three weeks when I came back from competing in Europe. A friend gave me a cot in his house and I worked for another friend. Now for 1984, there is a movement toward the private sector . . . There are new programs to help athletes train, an athlete sponsorship program, training facilities at Colorado Springs (and Lake Placid, N.Y.). To be able to work for four hours and then train is a godsend for athletes."

Still, for every Willie Banks, there are thousands of athletes barely getting by.

For the period of 1981 to 1984, the U.S. Olympic Committee has an $80 million budget, but only $15 million goes directly to the athletes. It is filtered through individual sports federations for training and travel expenses.

College athletic programs help pay the way for many of America's world-class athletes. Simon says 17 percent of the country's Olympians in 1984 will come from the military, which also takes up some financial slack.

But in recent years, with many universities dropping nonrevenue-producing sports, the burden of funding has shifted from the colleges onto the national governing bodies, many of which are strapped for funds. In sports such as women's gymnastics and swimming, with many of the top athletes still in high school, the burden for cash frequently falls on parents.

Swimmer Melissa Belote Hamlin of Springfield won three gold medals at age 15 in the 1972 Olympics. She says she could not have done it without her family paying virtually all the bills.

She began swimming year-round at age 10, when it became apparent she had world-class potential. "From then on, we were paying monthly dues for the pools, entry fees for competitions, gas money, bathing suits, hotels and travel," she said. "I'd say $4,000 a year from 1966 to 1970, and that may be low.

"When I was 12, I made my first national championships, and from then on, it got more expensive. I couldn't swim locally because I wasn't getting the kind of competition I needed to stay at that world-class level. Between the ages of 12 and 15, when I swam in the Olympics, I'd say it was $8,000 to $10,000 for me, and that was when my dad was making $25,000 a year. That was a lot of money. My grandparents also helped out. It was a family kind of thing."

Hamlin, now 26, lives and coaches swimming in Northern Virginia. She did ease the financial burden on her parents by the time she went away to college at Arizona State. She was among the first women to receive a full athletic scholarship, and also was among the early beneficiaries of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

Title IX in effect mandated equality of athletic opportunity for women in sports in schools that received federal funds. Although athletic administrators at first predicted Title IX would lead to financial disaster for America's college sports programs, it has, instead, led toward many more women competing in sports.

In 1972, the average amount of money channeled to women's sports at NCAA Division I schools was $7,000 per school. In 1980-81, the last year with available figures, that sum was $338,000 per school. Before Title IX, no colleges or universities offered athletic scholarships to women. In 1977, there were 5,000; last year there were 15,000. In 1972, there were 32,000 women participating in intercollegiate competition at NCAA schools. In 1981, there were 70,000.

The dollar figures seem low when compared with spending for men at Division I schools with football teams. Those schools spent an average of $3.2 million for men's sports in 1982. But in Division I schools without football, the average school spent $631,000 for men's sports, not very much more than the average for the women.

"Just speaking from my perspective here at Maryland, I think parity is relatively close in certain areas in our situation here and among the top 20 Division I schools," said Chris Weller, coach of Maryland's women's basketball team.

"In terms of facilities and equipment, we're very close to the men here," she said.

"There's also another major change. The fact there is the potential for a scholarship and the opportunity to play at so many different places . . . Ten years ago, a lot of schools didn't even have college teams, let alone teams with scholarships for women. It never dawned on kids there was something beyond high school sports.

"My own mother said to me, 'You can't make a living out of basketball.' But I'm a stubborn sort, I guess."

Not everyone agrees. Eve Auchincloss, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation, which publishes Women's Sports magazine, says that although the overall participation of women in sports has "improved dramatically and will continue to be the sports story of the 1980s . . . there is still resistance."

The Department of Education's Title IX enforcement has been generally weak under the Reagan administration. But many are watching Grove City College vs. Bell, a case expected to reach the Supreme Court this fall. The case does not concern athletics per se, but the decision will affect sports because a Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that institutions receiving federal funds only in the form of financial aid offered to students must comply with Title IX. The administration says that funds must be earmarked for specific programs to come under Title IX.

According to Jean Atkins, an attorney for the Women's Equity Action League, there are major concerns about continued Title IX opportunities at the secondary, junior high and elementary school levels as school districts cut programs in order to meet budgets.

"Because the law got passed, school districts made massive moves to the (girls') benefit, even though there was no enforcement," Atkins said. "But in financial bad times, there are risks that can turn the clock back . . . We've worked with a number of parents on how to prevent these things from happening. For instance, we tell them to go to the school board and tell them they better not drop girls soccer."

Also, women have yet to be accepted as top-level athletic administrators.

"If you look at NCAA Division I schools, there are no women athletic directors, and in Division II there are only a couple," Auchincloss said. "Everybody seems to have good intentions, but they still spend their money on football and basketball. Women's sports have been relegated to the status of men's minor sports, and that's what we have to watch out for.

"The sports federations also don't have the money it takes to make up the difference. Women mature earlier. They tend to be better in their sports at an early age. In gymnastics and swimming many of the girls are peaking before they get to college. NCAA and high school rules prohibit these girls from competing in sports clubs and in the high schools or colleges. To me, that's limiting athletic opportunity.

"But I like the attitude of Bill Simon and Don Miller (executive director of the USOC). They believe women should have an equal chance, and they have taken up that cause. We are getting great support from them, and that is crucial."

The USOC may be able to provide even more support for all athletes in the future. If every Olympic coin commemorating the Los Angeles Games is sold, as much as $600 million will be raised, although a more realistic figure is $150 to $200 million. The USOC will get 40 percent.

Now pending in Congress is legislation that would allow donations to the USOC with a checkoff box on federal income tax returns. The legislation calls for a $1 or $2 checkoff if the government owes the taxpayer a refund. Donations to the USOC can be included in the tax payment check. All money raised would go toward the development of amateur sports in this country.

Critics argue that the bill eventually would get the government directly involved in funding for the Olympics.

"But I think the real issue is whether the Olympic movement is unique enough to warrant it," says Mike Harrigan, former executive director of the President's Commission on Olympic Sports and now an Alexandria-based sports consultant lobbying for the USOC on the checkoff bill.

"People say if you do it for the USOC, what about the Boy Scouts or the Kidney Foundation? My argument to that is, what other charity has ever been used by the government as an instrument of foreign policy?" says Harrigan, referring to the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow games to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

Whatever, the USOC believes it can raise $25 million a year from the checkoff and, says Harrigan, "If it passes, it will eliminate the funding problems for amateur sports in this country."

And that is good news, particularly to the have-nots.

"We'll take anything we can get," said Howard Buxton, executive director of the U.S. Biathlon Association. Biathlon involves cross-country skiing and shooting.

"We have two coaches six months a year for the national team. There is no full-time staff or director. It's all volunteer, myself included. We have 12 people we're supporting as Olympic team hopefuls, but we can't give them very much."

No one knows that better than Lyle Nelson, a 34-year-old biathlete from Serene Lakes, Calif., who has competed in two Olympics. He shares a house with two other athletes, drives a 1973 Ford that has 150,000 miles on it and, he says, "is a 50-50 shot at starting in the morning. The good thing about that is that I ride my bike a lot."

Nelson is a West Point graduate with a master's degree in industrial engineering. He says the most he's ever earned in a year was $8,000, and that much only because he won $6,000 in a Superstars-like television competition.

"Am I bitter? Absolutely not," he says. "Sure there are days you want to train, but you have a chance to make $4 an hour painting a house, so you do that. I'd definitely like to see us get more financial support, and I'd like to see us get more social support. The No. 1 biathlete in Russia gets his picture on stamps, he's a national hero.

"But I have no regrets, never even think about that. I made the choice . . .

"Right now, I own nothing. If I amassed everything I owned at this very moment and sold it all, I could probably raise enough money to buy a new bike. Not a great bike, just a bike. Was it worth it?

"Yes."

Next: Change bypasses blacks