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How much money do U.S. athletes get for winning gold? (And what do they owe in taxes?)

Olympics Wire logo Olympics Wire 2/13/2018 Chris Chase


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Unless you're in the upper stratosphere of Olympic athlete - think Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, Mikaela Shiffrin or (soon) Chloe Kim - being a Winter Olympian is a lot like being an elementary school teacher. Both provide immense happiness, lifetime of fulfillment, sense of purpose and grand triumphs - for way too little money.

Athletes in Pyeongchang didn't get into their sport for financial gain. They spend four years training because winning medals are the ultimate sporting achievement. But if you're good, at least there's some some financial reward that goes along with it. Each medal comes with a bonus for members of Team USA. Gold brings $37,500. A silver wins $22,500. Bronze medalists get $15,000.

Any money is money so these totals aren't to be dismissed but - for real? Thirty-eight grand? NBC is paying $7.75 billion for rights to broadcast the next handful of Olympics. The IOC has more money than it knows what to do with - though it's certainly not helping host cities pay for most of the infrastructure. There's not enough cash around to throw some cash at the greatest athletes in the world?

On the bright side (and this is new), at least the taxes have been taken care of. There was much uproar in the last few Olympic cycles about gold-medal winners having to pay nearly $10,000 in taxes for their Team USA bonuses on top of the actual value of the metal in their medals. (The gold in a gold medal is worth about $600 and the silver is slightly less. It's another way the government would nickel-and-dime winners.)

But no more! In October 2016, Barack Obama ended the so-called "victory tax" on the bonuses paid to Olympic athletes. He and Marco Rubio first devised the exception after an uproar during the London Games. If an athlete makes under $1 million per year (which excludes maybe a handful of competitors) then their bonuses are exempt from taxes.

That's great. Kudos to all. There's one small problem though: You have to be great to win a medal so, if you do, there's a better chance you've been able to make a decent living at your sport. Bonuses help those who largely don't need it. Slopestyle gold medalist Jamie Anderson lists five main sponsors on her website (along with links to 13 more companies). Red Gerard, the first gold-medal winner in Pyeonchang, has 11. Skiers compete on what can be a lucrative World Cup circuit. I don't know their net worths and doubt any of them, except the huge stars, are clearing $1 million, but with sponsorships, they seem to be making good livings. The bonus to them is just that - a bonus.

But for every White or Vonn, there's a women's ice hockey player or luger or nordic combined racer scraping by for the love of sport, money be damned. For them, that bonus money is living money. And the ones who probably need it the most won't be anywhere close to getting it.

How do Olympic athletes in non-revenue sports make a living? It depends. Dick's Sporting Goods employs 36 Olympic hopefuls (11 of whom made it to Pyeongchang), providing them support through flexible hours, while Team USA has multiple programs to assist athletes. Its Athlete Career Education works with Olympic athletes in college services, life skills, marketing and job placement.

Some have regular jobs and others dedicate themselves to the sport before starting careers. It's a labor of love. These athletic careers end early. There'll be plenty of time to make a living.

They won't have much of a financial head start though. Team USA only pays its athletes an average of $22,500 (according to Forbes), which is around minimum wage depending on your city and state.

And, yes, that's taxable.


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