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Congressman explains his lone vote in support of Olympic ‘victory tax’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Olympic medal winners will soon get a tax break, but not everyone thinks getting rid of the so-called victory tax is a good idea.

“I promise you, this is bad policy,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., who cast the lone vote against a bill that would block the IRS from taxing most Olympic winnings.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the measure, which repeals a tax on cash prizes awarded to U.S. medal winners: $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze.

The measure sailed through the House and Senate, winning final approval Thursday just as Obama welcomed several hundred members of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams to the White House. The U.S. won 121 medals at the Rio Olympics, including 46 gold medals.

A former college rower who once tried out for the U.S. national team, Himes said he has nothing against the Olympics or Olympic athletes. But he called the tax measure a “feel-good bill” that unnecessarily complicates an already complex tax code.

“What’s next?” he asked. “Tax exemptions for Nobel Prize winners? Astronauts? Inner-city teachers? This is no way to make tax policy: I feel good so I’ll give you a tax break.”

Supporters call the bill a matter of fairness.

Under current law, athletes who return home with a medal for Team USA must “pay a penalty for their success,” said Rep. Robert Dold, R-Ill., the bill’s chief House sponsor. The bipartisan bill “ensures that these athletes can remain focused on fulfilling their Olympic and Paralympic dreams without the fear of getting a huge tax bill in the mail,” Dold said.

Many countries subsidize their Olympic athletes, added Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “The least we can do is make sure our athletes don’t get hit with a tax bill for winning a medal,” he said.

The bill was amended in the House to allow taxes on high-profile athletes such as swimmer Michael Phelps who earn more than $1 million a year.

Himes applauded the change, but said the bill remains an election-year stunt.

“It’s an unpopular Congress trying to bask in the reflected glory of Olympic heroes. But it’s still bad policy,” he said.

While no other lawmaker voted against the bill, several have told him privately “I wish I’d been with you,” Himes said.

John Shaban, a Republican who is running against Himes, said the Democrat’s vote showed he was “disconnected from the sentiment of the country and the rest of the Congress.”

“Really is that how bad things are? That we have to tax the Olympic athletes on their medals,” Shaban told the Hartford Courant.

Himes and other Democrats “spend all their time beating up on the one presidential candidate who says how we never win anymore. And if we do win they’re going to tax you,” Shaban said.

MORE: President Obama to female Olympians: ‘Y’all crushed it’ (video)

 

Chinese lead, star pairs struggle in world championships short program

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China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong recorded the highest pairs short program score in the world since the 2014 Olympics, topping the world championships field in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are well behind in seventh and 13th place, respectively.

Sui and Han, in just their second event this season, tallied a personal-best 81.23 points.

They lead by 1.39 over Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot going into the free skate Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in third.

The Chinese will go for their first world title after giving up a short-program lead last year and taking silver for a second straight time.

Full worlds short program results are here.

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Sui and Han missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Duhamel and Radford, looking to become the first pair to three-peat in 40 years, came in slowed by Radford’s hip injury suffered in the last week. Radford was off-balance on his triple toe loop landing Wednesday. Duhamel’s hand touched the ice on her throw triple Lutz landing.

They scored 72.67 points, which is 8.56 behind Sui and Han.

Stolbova and Klimov both suffered falls in their short program and scored 65.59, qualifying for the 16-pair free skate by four points. The Russian champions missed the autumn season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, who posted a personal-best 72.17 points for eighth place. The husband-and-wife pair are competing for the second time this season after Scimeca Knierim’s serious abdominal injury.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier suffered two falls and placed 20th, matching the worst U.S. pairs finish in worlds history. They did not qualify for the 16-pair free skate.

Therefore, the Knierims must finish 10th or better after the free skate to ensure the U.S. earns two pairs places at the 2018 Olympics.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. medal in pairs at worlds came in 2002. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

North Korean pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik placed 14th in the short program, the highest of any pair expected to compete for one of four final Olympic quota spots in September.

North Korea sent no athletes to the Sochi Olympics, and it’s not a guarantee it will qualify any athletes for PyeongChang, or if it will send athletes to South Korea in February. But Ryom and Kim’s personal best by nearly 11 points on Wednesday was very encouraging.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition

Pairs Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 81.23
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 79.84
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 79.37
8. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 72.17
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Missy Franklin out due to shoulder surgeries

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Missy Franklin is sidelined from swimming competition for an undisclosed period of time to recover from surgeries on both of her shoulders due to bursitis, according to her social media.

“This is what’s best for me to come stronger than ever,” was posted on Franklin’s Instagram. “I’m so far from being done with this sport.”

The five-time Olympic champion was diagnosed in early January following an MRI, underwent surgeries that month and has returned to limited training.

Franklin, who has not raced since the Rio Olympics, will not compete in the next USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., in two weeks.

Her return date is not set.

The U.S. Championships are in June in Indianapolis and serve as a qualifying meet for the world championships in Budapest in July.

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