London Olympics: All that glitters isn’t necessarily gold

Careful, Wenjun Guo, that gold medal you are biting on is worth $708.
(Lars Baron / Getty Images)

LONDON -- So what’s a lifetime of blood, sweat and tears worth? At the London Olympics, the market value is about $708.

That’s the going rate for the gold contained in the gold medals that will be handed out over the next two weeks, according to the World Gold Council. While that may not sound like much, the high price of gold makes this year’s top prize more valuable than any handed out in the history of the modern Olympics.

And while the athletes will certainly disagree, judging strictly from the precious metals that make up the precious medals, there’s not much difference between first and second since the London golds are actually 92.5% silver, 6.16% copper and just 1.34% gold.

Why fudge on the gold?


Well, given the fact the London medals are -- at 85 millimeters in diameter, 8-10 millimeters in thickness and 412 grams in weight -- the biggest and heaviest in Olympic history, a gold medal made of solid gold would be worth roughly $24,000.

The last Olympic medals made entirely of gold were awarded in 1912. But this year’s medals, which contain only a thin coat of gold, are 17 times as heavy as those were.

The International Olympic Committee insists that each gold medal have no less than 92.5% silver and at least six grams of gold. But after that? Well four years ago the Beijing medals contained jade, which signifies virtue to the Chinese. The British chose copper as the third ingredient this year.
Here are some more striking medal facts courtesy of the World Gold Council:

* During the first of the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, winners were awarded a silver medal and an olive branch while the runners-up got a bronze medal and a laurel branch. (Presumably third-place finishers got zinc and a pine cone.)

* Apparently the whole medal thing took awhile to catch on though, because in the 1900 Games in Paris winners received paintings while one pole vaulter runner-up got an umbrella.

* Still that’s better than the Ancient Olympics in Greece. Only the winner got a prize then and it was a wreath made of wild olive leaves from a sacred tree near the temple of Zeus at Olympia. And they didn’t even have Nike sponsorship deals to fall back on.

* Eight tons of silver, gold and copper -- much of it mined in Utah -- was used to make the Olympic medals for London, each of which takes 10 hours to complete. The metal discs are struck 15 times under 900 tons of pressure to imprint the unique design for the London Games.



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