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So What Are Olympic Medals Really Made Of ?

The Olympics have once again wowed the world. So many exploits and surprises, so much joy and a fair share of disappointment. 

We’ve also seen the introduction of some new sports in Tokyo: Skateboarding, Surf, Sport Climbing and Karaté.

The Modern Olympic Games are very much different from their Ancient Counterpart. The very first Ancient Olympic Games took place in Athens in 776 BCE, almost 2,800 years ago.

The Games consisted of only one event at the time:

  • the STADION or STADE, a running race 600 Greek feet-long or 192 meters. The venue was held in a building known as a STADION.

Slowly but surely, a number of other Ancient Greek Olympic Sporting Events were gradually introduced. These included:

other Running Races:

  • The DIALOS meaning literally “Twice round the Stadion“ ;
  • the Dolichos a long-distance endurance foot-race, equivalent to about 5,000m.

Combat sports came along later:

  • Palé – Wrestling            divided into both Upright & Floor Palé
  • Pygmachia – Boxing   it consisted of one brutal round
  • Pankration was a gruesome form of MMA. The UFC-crowd would no doubt appreciate that Pan-kratos signifies “ALL STRENGTH”. Only biting and eye-gouging were forbidden.

The Pentathlon came along in the form of Discus, Javelin, Long Jump, Stadion and Wrestling, requiring the Athlete to be an outstanding all-rounder.

The Tethrippon, was a 12-lap, 14 km endurance event, was a Four-Horse Chariot race, that took place in a Hippodrome.

Hoplitodromos (1) was a strange event requiring Athletes to run twice around the Stadion, whilst clad in heavy armour weighing 50-pounds: Helmet, Shield and Grieves.

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The Modern Olympic Games

It’s interesting to know that the first Modern Olympics that took place in Athens in 1896 only had 9 events:

  • Wrestling, Weightlifting, Fencing, Shooting, Gymnastics, Swimming, Track & Field and Lawn Tennis.
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Only 14 Countries participated in the 1st Olympiad.

The Frenchman Michel Bréal took inspiration from the history books and introduced the discipline known as the MARATHON in 1896.

This was a highly symbolic gesture for this 1st Modern Olympiad. It was in honour of the Greek Army Runner, who in 490 BCE, ran from the Plain of Marathon to Athens (2) to announce the Greek Victory over the Persian Army.

In 1896, Greece enjoyed amazing success by winning the most medals overall and above all the first Olympic Marathon event.

Do the Gold, Silver & Bronze Medals live up to their name?

Participating in the Olympics is without doubt the most prestigious event an athlete could ever wish for.

Being on the podium and receiving an Olympic Medal is, for most athletes, the pinnacle of their career.

The medals for the TOKYO 2020 Olympics were designed by Junichi Kawanishi. The design lives up to the Japanese craftsmanship. Even the cases that hold the medal are made by Japanese craftsman using both traditional and modern techniques.

So, putting prestige, recognition and success aside, what exactly is each Olympic Medal made of?

I’m always amazed to see how large a medal looks when presented to the athlete during the Medals Ceremony. 85 mm in diameter, they do look a handful:

A Gold Medal weighs in at 556g.

The true gold-content is only around 6 grams and the rest made up of at least 92.5% Silver

The Silver Medal weighs 550g and is Silver refined to at least 92.5%.

Not quite the 999.9 Fineness of a Silver Canadian Maple Leaf

The Bronze Medal comes in at 450g and is actually Red Brass (95% Copper, 5% Zinc)

Interesting Value Comparison

At the current market value, the Gold:Silver Ratio is approximately 1:72.

72 Troy Ounces of pure Silver (.99 Fine which is purer than the Silver used in the Olympic medals) represents the same monetary value as 1 Troy Ounce of pure Gold (.999 Fine)

Just for the fun of it, let’s make a quick simulation of how much the equivalent weight in Gold, Silver and Bronze would be.

Let’s ignore for now the sentimental value or true market value an Olympic medal could command on the open market.

The calculation is made using the market spot price, even if in reality, there is always a premium to be paid over spot price for any transaction of precious metals.

1 Troy Ounce converts to about 31.103 g

Using current Market Spot Prices (going to press)

1 Troy Oz of Gold is valued at about

  $1,760         or       £1,270          or       €1,500 

1 Troy Oz of Silver is valued at about

 $24.30         or       £17.50          or       €20.70 

1 pound (Ib) of Copper is

$4.35 per pound (Ib)

1 Metric Ton of Zinc is

$3,000 / MT


1 oz gold bar of 0.999 Fine Gold corresponds to 31.103 grams of gold. (Don’t confuse the Imperial Ounce  (Oz) with the Troy Ounce (Ozt) used in the Precious Metals industry)

(1) Scanlon, T. F. (2014). Sport in the Greek and Roman worlds. Vol 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

(2)  ( Sekunda, N. (2002). Marathon, 490 BC: The first Persian invasion of Greece. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.

Academy, S. U. S. (2015, November 5). Michel Bréal (1832–1915) – The Man Behind the Idea of the Marathon. The Sport Journal. https://thesportjournal.org/article/michel-breal-1832-1915-the-man-behind-the-idea-of-the-marathon/

International Olympic Committee. (2021, July 14). Ancient Olympic Sports – running, long jump, discus, pankration. https://olympics.com/ioc/ancient-olympic-games/the-sports-events

Wagner, J. (n.d.). Medal Table Olympic Games 1896. Olympic Museum. Retrieved 7 August 2021, from https://www.olympic-museum.de/m-stand/olympic-games-medal-table-1896.php

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