Here's how much winning a gold medal is worth

Doug Pensinger/GettyAmerican ski racer Lindsey Vonn showing off her gold medal at the podium during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
  • American athletes are paid $US37,500 for winning a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
  • Olympians no longer have to pay taxes on money earned for winning a medal at the games.
  • A gold medal is made mostly of silver, so it contains about $US600 worth of metal.

The Winter Olympics will begin soon in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and athletes from all over the world will compete for glory. There will be 102 medal events at this year’s games, and while everyone is looking for gold, silver, and bronze, prize money is also up for grabs.

Athletes do not get paid just for competing, but national bodies for many countries reward medalists with money. The United States Olympic Committee pays American medalists for their accomplishments as part of Operation Gold.

For this year’s Winter Olympics and the games in 2020, the USOC will pay:

  • $US37,500 to Americans who earn gold
  • $US22,500 to silver medalists
  • $US15,000 for bronze finishers

These figures are 50% more than what American medalists earned in 2016, when gold medalists were awarded $US25,000 each, like they had been for over a decade. The US pays less for victory than some other countries: In the 2016 games, a Singaporean athlete who won gold was awarded $US753,000 from his home country.

This year’s American Olympians will take home more than ever before, in part because their winnings will not be taxed. During the 2016 Olympics, Senator Chuck Schumer – who has since been appointed as senate minority leader – released a statement in support of abolishing what he referred to as “the victory tax.”

The New York Democrat said“our Olympian and Paralympic athletes should be worried about breaking world records, not breaking the bank, when they earn a medal.”

Congress passed legislation to prevent monetary winnings for Olympic medalists from being taxed and President Obama signed the law into effect in October 2016.

Schumer said “the very least we can do is make sure our athletes don’t get hit with a tax bill for winning. After a successful and hard fought victory, it’s just not right for the US to welcome these athletes home with a tax on that victory.”

Olympic Gold Medal Winter 2018Chung Sung-Jun/GettyThe design of the 2018 Olympic medals is inspired by the texture of tree trunks.

To increase their take-home, some athletes have sold their medals in the past to take advantage of a market for Olympic gold.

Gold is currently trading on US markets at around $US43 per gram, or $US1,340 per ounce. The IOC says that the gold medals weigh 586 grams, which would be worth about $US25,380. However, they note that the composition of the gold medals is primarily not gold.

They say the gold is actually a silver medal, plated with six grams of gold. With the price of silver trading much lower than gold, the first place medal contains metal worth a little under $US600.

Another income source available to some Olympians is endorsement deals. But athletes – even those at the top of their sports – can’t rely on money from sponsorships. As USA Today reported, being a previous medal winner helps, but to gain substantial sponsorships, athletes often have to have a great deal of fame, a stirring human interest story, or a significant connection with the brand.

For athletes in winter sports, endorsement deals can be harder to come by than for competitors in the more popular Summer Olympics, but recent Winter Olympians with big endorsement deals include Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, Apolo Anton Ohno, and Michelle Kwan.

The 2018 Olympics start February 7 and the first medals will be handed out on February 10.

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