I'm excited to see all of the medals, especially the gold medals, that the U.S. is winning in the 2012 London Olympic games! All of these athletes worked so hard to earn these medals and represent their country. While watching them stand on the podium getting their medals, I can't help but wonder about the precious metals these medals actually have. Both the gold and bronze medals barely contain their namesake metals. Here's the breakdown of what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires for each medal:
- Gold Medal: Must be silver gilt with at least 92.5% silver and have at least 6g of pure gold. This year's gold medal has around 93% silver, 6% copper, and 1% pure gold. The amount of gold in the medal is valued at roughly $340 today.
- Silver Medal: Must have a similar grade silver as the first place medal. This year's medal has around 92% silver and 8% copper, which is similar to sterling silver grade jewelry which has 92.5% silver mixed with other alloys.
- Bronze Medal: Can be left to the organizing committee. This year's medal contains around 97% copper, 3% zinc, and 0.5% tin.
Not all Olympic medals were made with these requirements. Solid gold medals, weighing 24g, were last given to first place winners in the 1912 Stockholm games. However, the cost per troy ounce was just under $19, which makes the cost of gold in those medals to be around $14.63, during that time. This year's London Olympic medals cost around $700 to make.
Does this lack of precious metals mean that the gold medal is worth much less than what they represent? My cousin and I debated this issue. He thinks that it's dishonorable to give first place winners medals that only have 1% of gold because athletes that dedicate much of their lives to excelling in their sports should get a medal with even more, as if it's made with 10K or 14K gold (58.3% pure gold). While I do believe that they deserve the very best, these Olympic medals still behold an incredible amount of honor and value and symbolize the epitome of the world's best athletes. Also, with the price of gold and the cost to host the Games so high, it makes sense to make the medals this way. The Olympic emblem, intricate artistic designs, and high degree of craftsmanship immensely add to the value of the medals. No one else can earn these medals, and the general public understands their worth.
Most importantly, the smiles that spread across each athletes face when they win a gold, silver, and/or bronze medal show how much these medals mean regardless if they have a lot of precious medals. Look how much the U.S. Gymnastics team fought to get Aly Raisman a bronze medal in the individual balance beam event yesterday. Her face lit up after the team coordinators' official review fell in her favor. Or remember how hard Michael Phelps fought to earn the most Olympic medals, 22 total, in the entire history of the games. The winners are proud to win these awards regardless of what they are made of, and we will still commemorate and regard them as an invaluable award.