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The cost of winning an Olympic gold medal

Friday - 8/3/2012, 9:52am  ET

Michael Phelps is the winningest Olympian of all time. (AP)

WASHINGTON - Taking home an Olympic medal can cost elite athletes a pretty penny, and there's a movement in Congress to try to change that.

It might sound surprising that athletes have to pay to win. But they do. Each medal comes with prize money, and that money, plus possibly the value of the medal itself, is taxed.

(Note: Mark Jones, the communications director for the U.S. Olympic Committee, tells Salon medals have no "value" and no taxes are associated with them. Other reports differ.)

Gold medalists win $25,000, silver medalists win $15,000 and bronze medalists win $10,000.

The tax rate for a win can be 35 percent.

That means a gold medal win is taxed approximately $8,750, plus possible taxes on the $675 gold medal. Held to that standard, Michael Phelps may have paid well over $130,000 for his wins.

On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced a bill that would waive the taxes for certain winning athletes.

Rubio, who is being vetted by the Romney campaign for vice president, says the tax code is "a complicated and burdensome mess that too often punishes success."

Olympic athletes "shouldn't have to worry about an extra tax bill waiting for them back home."

The topic of taxing Olympians has spurred some debate. The Tampa Bay Times' points out that many athletes likely don't meet the required income level to be taxed at the 35 percent rate, and deductions could lower the burden.

The group Americans for Tax Reform, meanwhile, calculated that U.S. Olympians can owe up to $9,000 to the IRS.

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