Olympische Medaillen - Lillehammer 2016

How much gold is really in Olympic medals?

If you're interested in the Olympics, you've probably wondered what gold medals are made of. Do athletes really get awards made of precious metal? Let's find out.

Olympic medals - Lillehammer 2016
Olympic medals - Lillehammer 2016

What was presented to the winners of the first Olympic Games?

First of all, there were no gold, silver or bronze medals at the ancient Olympic Games. The winner of the Games was presented with a laurel wreath made from the branches of the sacred olive tree that grew near the Temple of Zeus. The award, like the medal later, was worn around the neck.

The ancient Greek name for the Olympic Games was "Olympiakoi Agnos", which means "Olympic pain, agony or struggle".

When did the gold medal appear?

Medals were first awarded at the Olympic Games in 1894, but at that time there were only two prizes: Silver and Bronze. Silver was more valuable, so the medal was awarded for first place. It wasn't until the 1908 London Olympics that gold was introduced as the first medal, while silver took second place and bronze third.

At that time, the tradition of biting the Olympic medals arose to show the winners that they had received an award made of pure gold, because teeth marks could be seen on them due to the softness of the metal.

Olympic gold medals from 1912
Olympic gold medals from 1912. Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian

 

Pure gold was the award for first place in the Olympics for a short time. Beginning with the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, a new rule was introduced for the standard of Olympic medals. It stated that all gold medals must contain at least 6 grams of gold and be made of sterling silver.

The size of the medals varies from game to game, but the precious metal content remains the same. Gold medals are made of 1.45% gold, 6% bronze and 92.5% silver. Silver medals are made of 925 silver and bronze medals are made of bronze.

How are Olympic medals made?

Olympic medals are made in the same way as many modern coins.

After selecting a design, the Mint first creates 3D models that are used to produce a full-size medal. These molds are then heat treated to prepare them for the stamping process. The molds are then cast with the desired alloy composition and sent under the hydraulic press. Under the pressure of the press, medals are formed with the selected image.

The resulting medals are finished by hand: They are soldered with ribbon mounts and can be customized in appearance.

Silver medal Paralympics 2016
Silver medal Paralympics 2016

Medals from recycled materials

This tradition started in Rio in 2016 and will continue in Tokyo in 2020. The Olympic medals were made from recycled valuable materials, because this is much more environmentally friendly and in line with modern developments.

At the Rio Olympics, 30% recycled material was used in the production of the silver and bronze medals, and the ribbons were 50% recycled PET. Recycled 925 sterling silver was used for the gold medals, which was made from the remnants of mirrors, X-rays and other waste materials. Mercury was also not included in the composition.

In 2020, Tokyo repeated the experiment with greening the medals and made them even bigger. The organizers called on fans of the Olympic Games to donate their old electronic devices to recycle their precious metal parts into prizes for the winners. The campaign collected 30.3 kg of gold, 4,100 kg of silver and 2,700 kg of bronze.