An athlete can train for his or her entire life for an opportunity to compete in the Olympic Games, but victory is never assured. The only guarantee? If you do win, your state government is going to want a piece of the action.
In the United States, medal winners are no different from lotto prize recipients or someone who hits a jackpot in Vegas. The prize is considered income, and income gets taxed. The federal government used to take a chunk of the cash, up until President Barack Obama abolished the so-called "victory tax" in 2016. That leaves only state taxes.
But it’s not really the actual medal that has to be reported—it’s the money awarded by the United States Olympic Committee.
In recognition of representing the United States with a victory, the USOC gifts gold medalists with $37,500; $22,500 for silver; and $15,000 for bronze. That’s the amount that gets earmarked for review as income, with the rate depending on the sum of the athlete’s total earnings.
A good accountant can probably find a way to deduct training expenses, reducing an athlete’s net income. On a state by state basis, athletes might also benefit from politicians lobbying to strike the winnings from being tax-eligible. In Pennsylvania, for example, Rep. Marty Flynn (D) has introduced a bill excluding Olympians and Paralympic athletes from taxation. Until then, anyone from PA who takes home gold will have to set aside about $1100 for the state.
It could be worse. For the 2016 Summer Games, Britain—which placed second in the number of medals won overall—didn't pay its athletes a cent.
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