92.5% sterling silver, 7.5% copper. Do the math. This adds up to 100% and we have not mentioned gold yet. Modern Olympic gold medals are plated with 6 grams of 24k gold.
This composition is far from random. Traditionally, the host city’s organizing committee chooses the design and designer, but specific parameters must be met. Gold medals must be plated with at least 6 grams of gold. Both gold and silver medals must be composed of 92.5% sterling silver. All Olympic medals must be at least 60 mm in diameter and 3 mm thick.
The custom of awarding three medals, gold, silver and bronze, is relatively young. It started with the 1904 Olympics, held in Paris, France. The last 100% gold Olympic medal was awarded at the 1912 Games held in Stockholm, Sweden. Prior to 1904, there were only two levels of victory. At the 1986 Games, top performing Olympians we awarded silver medals; runners-up received bronze. At the 1900 Olympics, there were no medals. Winners received trophies or cups.
As you might imagine, the composition of medals, and in fact the very nature of prizes awarded to Olympic Games athletes, is greatly influenced by economic factors, namely, the value of metals used in their fabrication. After all, gold, silver and bronze are used to symbolize a level of excellence, rather than an actual value. However, it is their intrinsic respective market values that make them such immediately accepted and strong symbols of excellence.
If gold medals were 100% gold, this very small object would represent an expense of more than $2 million dollars for Olympic Games organizers. Interestingly, the street value of a gold medal pales in the face of its emotional and psychological value. Take the Sochi gold medal, for example. It weighs 531 grams (about the weight of a single-serving plastic bottle filled with water). Of that total weight, 6 grams are from the gold-plated surface. Based on current market vales for all metals used in its composition, each Sochi gold medal is worth about $550.
During the original Olympic games of Ancient Greece, the top performing athlete received a crown fashioned from an olive branch. The symbolism of this fruit was extremely significant, as it held deep spiritual meaning. Appropriately so, there was only one olive crown for a single champion.