Athletes Want Olympic Glory - but are Medals Really Gold?

The Spotlight

5 minutes read

May 30, 2024

A gold medal on a blue background

Olympic competitors dream of topping the podium, the gleam in their eye shining like the gold medal around their neck. But what’s the medals’ history - and are they real gold?

Faster, higher, stronger: the motto of the Olympic Games will ring out around the world in summer 2024 as the global competition comes to Paris.

We’ve all witnessed the wonder in winning competitors’ eyes as the gold medal is placed around their neck and they stand on the first-place podium. It’s an emotional image, one that inspires us and echoes across centuries of sporting achievement. 🥇

For the athletes, it’s the pinnacle of their career and the culmination of years of toil, sweat and - sometimes - tears. To finally get their hands on Olympic gold is to realise a dream.

But what is the relationship between the Olympic Games and gold? And are those medals truly made of the precious metal? Read on to discover the history of Olympic gold and the truth about the greatest prize that’s on offer at the Games.

Why Gold Medals at Olympics?

An athlete who on a gold Olympics medal

Gold is rarely out of the headlines.

It features in the financial pages of newspapers, adorns opulent sets in TV shows and movies, and celebrates the achievements of high-profile sportspeople who count their fans in millions.

But even before the precious metal was glamourised by a booming media industry, it was highly prized.

To begin with, gold is rare - that makes it valuable. And of course, among other members of the metal family, its colour is unusual. In its purest state gold is actually bright orange-yellow, but that hue was considered both weak and unpleasant - so yellow gold was created by mixing in other metals.

When produced with alloys such as nickel or silver it can be transformed into white gold; a metal that became popular in the 1920s as a substitute for platinum.

But we have to look even further back into history to pinpoint when and why yellow gold was picked as a precious metal. In fact, records show us gold jewelry was first produced more than six millennia ago - around 4600 BCE.

Many people wanted gold, but not everyone could have it. Owning gold or gold products became an indicator of social status. And the same was true when Olympic Games organisers pondered how to reward the elites of the sporting world.

Sport and Gold Have Grown Together

1904 St. Louis Olympics
1904 St. Louis Olympics

This summer, the precious metal will be in focus more than usual as Olympic gold medals are handed out in their hundreds. These medals are the stuff of legend. They represent the best humanity can strive to be, our best sporting endeavors. 🏃

But gold wasn’t always the go-to. The sporting history books describe silver as the choice for first-placed competitors until the very end of the 19th Century.

It was at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics that gold was given to every event winner. The second-place finishers received silver medals, and the third-place finishers received bronze medals. This marked the beginning of the tradition of gold, silver, and bronze medals for the first, second, and third places respectively, which continues to this day.

Fast-forward to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games and painstaking preparation will ensure those gold medals are still as highly prized as always. Renowned French jewelry designer Maison Chaumet is making all of the Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals that will be won, and the Paris Mint is charged with minting them.

Olympic Medals: Golden Facts

  • Summer is lighter - Curiously, gold medals awarded in Summer Olympics are smaller, thinner and lighter than those won at Winter Games. ☀️
  • Who’s won the most gold medals? - Well, for men’s competitions it's US swimmer Michael Phelps (23) 🏊‍♂️. Gymnast Larisa Latynina, of the former Soviet Union, leads the way among women (9).

Are Olympic Medals Really Gold?

Bronze, silver, and gold Olympic medals from different years

It may be unromantic to say it and shatter the myth - but the answer is no. Olympic gold medals are not actually made of solid gold.

Only-gold medals were last made in 1912: now they’re almost wholly silver, but must contain minimum 6 grams of gold. This was the case, for example, in the Olympic Games hosted in 2018 by South Korea:

🥇99.9% pure silver; 6 gram gold plated

🥈 99.9% pure silver

🥉 90% copper; 10% zinc

Purity will always be part of the conversation when it comes to gold products - and Olympic gold medals are no different.

Even more surprising might be the value of the greatest Olympic prize. In 2018, when the price of gold was similarly high as it is today, estimates put a gold medal’s notional value at below €500.

So, Olympic gold’s real value lies in its status and what it says about an individual’s achievements. And as awarded Olympic gold medals remain relatively rare they can still fetch a good price at auction. In fact, an Olympic gold won by Steve Christoff in the legendary 1980 US “Miracle on Ice” ice hockey team sold for £300k+ in 2023. 🏒

If all this talk of precious metal has whetted your appetite to own gold of your own, GOLD AVENUE’s products - unlike Olympic medals - really do represent pure investment gold. And buying them often doesn’t cost a fortune. 🙃

Why Invest in Gold?

A PAMP Suisse gold bar with a numbe one cup

There’s never been a better time to invest in gold.

In 2024, the price of gold climbed to its highest ever. That’s great news for first-time and long-term investors alike.

Investors have different reasons for investing in gold, and needs that also vary. You might wish to diversify your investment portfolio in a low-risk manner; or your goal might be to target a specific profit level in the short, medium or long term, to suit your circumstances.

While physical gold does not directly pay dividends or interest, it’s seen as a reliable investment option and saving solution.

Choosing to save in gold today can safeguard your wealth against future inflation, as the value of gold tends to rise over the long term. This makes it a compelling option for both investment and savings, helping you preserve your financial security for years to come.

If your interest in sport ends at spectating in the stadium or following as a remote fan, fear not - you might never win a gold medal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have gold of your own. 🏅


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