The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Everyone’s talking about... Gold medals
They’re what the 11,000-plus athletes in Tokyo (Covidwilling) have spent their lives training to win: but what do we know about Olympic gold medals?
Well, they are barely gold, for starters. Of the 556g (20oz) a medal weighs – a bit more than a can of baked beans – just 6g is gold, plating a disc that’s mainly silver, with a dash of copper. For Tokyo, the metals were all recovered from old mobile phones.
But they used to be gold, right?
Only briefly. Ancient Olympians competed for an olive wreath, since honour was more important than a prize. Gold medals were not awarded at the first modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens, either. The winners got a silver medal and an olive branch. Solid gold medals were awarded only in 1904, 1908 and 1912, then curtailed by the First World War. The size of the medals has also varied considerably – this year’s are 85mm (3in) in diameter – almost three times as wide as the smallest ever.
What’s on them?
The image used from 1928 showed ancient athletes at the Colosseum. Only when the Games returned to Athens in 2004 did organisers concede that the Roman landmark didn’t best reflect the Olympics’ Greek roots, and it was changed. Now one side shows Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. The other side says ‘Tokyo 2020’ with a traditional Japanese pattern and the five Olympic rings. The relevant event’s name is engraved on the side.
Let’s cut to the chase: what are they worth?
Even the tiny amount of gold in a medal is worth £250, plus £400 for the other metals used. By comparison, the bronze contains just £3 of copper and zinc. But collectors pay much more: a London 2012 gold fetched more than £50,000 at auction this year, and the record is just over £1million for one of the four golds US sprinter Jesse Owens won at the 1936 Berlin Games. Some countries pay athletes bonuses for securing medals – Italy’s eight Rio 2016 gold winners each got £135,000 – but Team GB remains true to the Games’ amateur roots and our champions get no extras.
Well, maybe a place on the next series of Strictly…