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The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are the largest games in the history of the Summer Olympics. With each passing games, the size and scope of the competition increases and the focus on fiscal responsibility, or lack thereof, involved in the games intensifies. What the average viewer tends to overlook is the true cost and precious metal content of the thousands of medals handed out to winners and runners-up at each Olympic Games. The question on the minds of most people is, how valuable (and true) are those gold, silver, and bronze medals?
Quick Look at the Rio Games
As mentioned, the Summer Olympics in Rio are the largest in the history of the modern Olympic Games. When all is said and done, a total of 2,488 winners medals will be handed out to competitors at the games. This includes an equal 812 medals for each of the Gold Medal winners and Silver Medal runners-up, as well as 864 bronze medals for third-place finishers.
As you look at your favorite competitors standing on the podium after their competitions holding those medals as their national anthem blares in the background, you’d be forgiven for assuming that each of those medals is truly the precious metal content advertised. The truth is, in reality, that silver is the predominant metal in use for the production of the medals at the games.
Breaking Down the Content
Let’s start at the top of the podium and work our way down. Those coveted Gold Medals that winners receive are actually 98.8% silver with a purity of .925, and just 1.2% .999 pure gold. The total weight is 494 Grams of silver and just 6 Grams of gold. The Silver Medals handed out to the first runner-up are the purest of the games, with 100% .925 pure silver in a 500 Gram medal. The Bronze Medals for third-place finishers actually contain a 5% Zinc – 95% Copper mixture, totaling 25 Grams of Zinc and 475 Grams of Copper.
Based upon the spot price of all four metals involved in the production of Olympic Medals at the time of the Olympic Games, the medals themselves are actually surprisingly affordable considering the extremely low gold content of the winner’s medals. Consider that spot prices are at the following during the games:
- Gold: $1,348.40 per Troy oz.
- Silver: $19.61 per Troy oz.
- Copper: $2.16 per pound.
- Zinc: $1.02 per pound.
This means that your gold medalists earn a winner’s medal worth $548, while silver medalists take home a $292 value and third-place finishers have a medal worth just $2.16. So, why don’t Olympic organizers use entirely pure gold content in the production of the gold medals at the games?
Costs are Astronomical
The reality of the situation is that it has been 104 years since Olympic organizers handed out pure gold winner’s medals at either the Summer Games or subsequent Winter Games. Given the number of medals produced for the Rio Games, you recall the total is 2,488 medals, the overall cost to strike the medals for the materials alone is $683,778. This breaks down as follows:
- $445,130 for the 812 Gold Medals
- $236,779 for the 812 Silver Medals
- $1,868 for the 864 Bronze Medals
These costs account only for the materials involved in the production of the medals handed out to participants in the games. The cost of minting the medals drives the total needed for medal production even higher.
The 1912 Summer Games in Stockholm, Sweden marked the last time that solid gold medals were handed out to winners. Based upon the current value of gold, a solid-gold medal would cost $21,674 for each individual medal, with a total tab of $17,599,182 for all 812 gold medals alone, not to mention the additional costs of the silver and bronze medals that would push that total near $18 million.
The Olympic Games in Rio so far have come in 51% over budget at a total of $12 billion. While $18 million might seem like a drop in the bucket at that point, it would have been a significant uptick in costs compared to the current total of $683,778 for the medals of the Rio Games.