Olympic Games

How much do Olympic medals cost?

How much pure gold is there in a winner’s medal and how much do they cost to make? At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, every medal has been made from recycled metal.

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How much do Olympic medals cost?
DANIEL MIHAILESCU AFP

For simple economic reasons, Olympic medals are no longer made of pure metal – at least not the gold and bronze medals. The last time that Olympic winner’s medals were made of solid gold was during the Stockholm Games in 1912 – the V Olympiad. Immediately after that, organisers realised that it was simply too expensive to continue doing so.

Olympic medals gilted in gold

As of today, the market price for an ounce of gold is $1,892.00. In total, 812 gold medals are awarded to the winners of all the events at the Olympic Games. To produce one 500g medal made of solid gold would cost about $30,000 - times that by 812 and the total cost for all of the gold medals given out at one Games would be over $24,500,000.

Today, Olympic gold medals are comprised of 494 grams of silver and plated with around six grams of gold. That means the cost value of one winner’s medal would be around $815, based on the silver spot price as of 23 July 2021 ($25/oz).

The Olympic silver medals awarded for athletes who finished second in their given event are made of solid silver, without any plating. So a 500g Olympic silver medal would cost around $445 to produce in terms of the raw materials.

The Olympic bronze medal, given to those who come third, like the gold medal, is plated and is the cheapest of the three to produce. It is comprised of 95% copper and 5% zinc or tin. The US copper spot price is currently $4.44 per pound (lb). A bronze Olympic medal would individually cost $4.70 in terms of the raw materials required to produce it. All Olympic medals must be at least 3 mm thick and at least 60 mm in diameter.

Recycled metals used for medals at Tokyo Olympics

However, at the Tokyo Olympics, all of the medals produced for the summer Games and the Paralympic Games will cost less to produce because materials used to make them have been recycled through the Tokyo 2020 Medals Project. Japanese citizens from all parts of the country were asked to send in small, unused electronic devices such as old mobile phones, handheld games, or other electronic devices. Those devices contain rare earth elements which can be retrieved and recycled. An iPhone contains around 0.034 grams of gold, 0.34 grams of silver and around 15 grams of copper – exactly the kind of precious metals needed to produce Olympic medals.

According to the organisers of the 2020 Games, around 5,000 medals were produced using metals obtained from recycled electronic devices between April 2017 and March 2019. Every single medal to be awarded to athletes during the Tokyo 2020 Games is made from recycled metals while the ribbons were made from 50 per cent recycled PET. Medals were produced from recycled metals for the first time at the 2016 Rio Olympics - around 30% of the silver used by the Brazilian Mint for the medals came from old mirrors, solder and X-ray plates.

Medal design for the Tokyo Olympics

As part of the project, the public was also invited to submit a design for the 2020 Olympic medals. The competition, which was open to professional designers and design students from all over Japan, attracted over 400 entries. In line with IOC regulations, the obverse side of an Olympic medal must contain three basic elements - Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, in front of the Panathinaikos Stadium, the official name of the Games (Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020) and the Olympic symbol of five rings.