As we approach the 2012 Olympics, many athletes will descend on London, England in hopes of winning a gold medal. But, just how much is that medal worth? Many would say they are absolutely invaluable, a symbol of a lifetime of hard work culminating in an once-in-a-lifetime performance.
But say Michael Phelps—winner of 16 total medals, including 14 gold—decided that his medals lost meaning; maybe he only had room for 13 gold medals on his dresser. The Economist, thankfully, broke down the market value of a gold medal, stripping away its associated worth.
Gold medals, awarded since the 1912 games (the first of the modern Olympics gave winners a silver medal), started out as pure gold. But its content has changed over the years, just like our coins. Now the 2012 medals will weigh in at 14 ounces, a total of 17 times heavier than the first gold medals at the 1912 Stockholm games, but its actual gold content will fall from 100% to a miniscule 1.5%.
The International Olympic Committee has set standards requiring a gold medal to be at least 92.5% silver and with at least 6 grams of gold, but the rest was up to the London organizers. Using the current prices of gold and silver, The Economist calculates that any gold medal winner will have approximately $706 in raw material worth hanging from their necks on that podium. They also find that—for the first time ever—the silver in the gold medal outweighs the worth of its gold content.
Concluding, The Economist puts this in a little perspective:
“Medals are, of course, worth far more than their weight in gold. On March 29th Wladimir Klitschko, a Ukrainian world heavyweight-boxing champion, raised $1m for charity by auctioning off his 1996 gold medal.”