Olympic champions will owe taxes on their medals, bonuses

Fourth-Place Medal
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/olympics/rio-2016/a/1119883/" data-ylk="slk:Katie Ledecky">Katie Ledecky</a> won her second gold medal at the Rio Games on Tuesday. (AP)
Katie Ledecky won her second gold medal at the Rio Games on Tuesday. (AP)

When Americans win at the Olympic Games, we all win. But some of us win a little more than others.

This is your periodic reminder that the Olympic medals, and the bonuses that the athletes win for snaring a gold, silver or bronze, continue to be taxed as income. You probably already know that prizes, such as lottery, casino or game show winnings, are taxable. Medals and prize bonuses fall under that same umbrella, even if winning an Olympic medal requires a bit more effort than, say, scratching off a card.

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In addition to a priceless memento, U.S. athletes also win bonuses of $25,000 for a gold-medal performance, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. All of that is taxable.

If there’s good news to this, it’s that the medals’ actual monetary value, the basis on which they are taxed, is surprisingly cheap. Forbes pegs the value of a gold medal at about $564, give or take depending on the price of gold. (A completely gold medal, rather than a gold-plated one, would be about $22,000.) Silver medals are worth about $305, while bronze medals, with their mixture of copper and zinc, possess “little intrinsic value.”

[Related: Is a rare birth defect actually helping American breaststrokers?]

Any athlete with a halfway decent accountant ought to be able to offset at least a portion of potential tax with expenses racked up for training and traveling, provided the athlete is treating their sport as a profession.

The idea of taxing Olympians strikes some as a bit unsavory, or at least seems an opportunity to score some easy political points. Sen. Marco Rubio proposed a bill in 2012 to exempt Olympians from the tax, saying at the time, “We can all agree that these Olympians who dedicate their lives to athletic excellence should not be punished when they achieve it.” That bill failed to pass, but another awaits action in the House of Representatives after passing the Senate, and President Obama has said he is in favor of an exemption.

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