Since there aren’t enough people blogging about the Olympics, I decided to jump into the pool. Elaine and I spent hours working up an Olympic-sized fact for our Face The Facts USA project. In the end, it was deemed not deep enough for the website. But what the heck, it’s excellent blogging material.

Fact: The United States is the only major Olympic competitor which does not subsidize its athletes with government funds, yet historically has won the most medals of any nation in the summer games.

That’s right. The U.S. Olympic Committee relies exclusively on income from the sale of television broadcast rights, from corporate sponsors and private donations. American athletes themselves often endorse products, get jobs, hit up their parents, or go into debt for training. For the USOC, the annual budget is about $150 million to $175 million annually, with the higher numbers in Olympic years.

Now the anti-tax crowd in Washington is riding to the athletes’ rescue. It turns out all those Olympic medals and the accompanying cash prizes are taxed as income. Grover Norquist’s tax group speculated that a gold-medal winner would owe $8,986 in taxes, silver $5,385 and bronze $3,502. Publicity-crazed lawmakers rushed to the microphones, expressing their outrage and proposing legislation to eliminate the tax. Then they promptly went on vacation without acting on it. It was a classic Washington moment.


Olympic gold

Meanwhile, our unsubsidized athletes are piling up medals; only China is in the same league with the American Olympians. Reminds me of the good old days of the Cold War, when every Olympic matchup with the USSR was a metaphor for the broader superpower struggle.

To set your American hearts at ease about our superiority, here’s a chart showing the United States has won twice as many medals than any other nation through history. To borrow the political phrase of the moment, that is American exceptionalism.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.