Are Olympic gold medals really made of gold?
Prior to the Games of the III Olympiad, held in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904, Olympic champions were awarded silver, rather than gold, medals. Similarly, runners-up were awarded bronze, rather than silver, medals and third-place finishers received no medals at all.
However, at the Summer Olympics in 1904, the now-traditional gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for the first time. The three-medal format was quickly adopted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which retrospectively awarded medals to athletes who participate in the 1896 and 1900 Olympics, in Athens and Paris respectively.
In 1904, 1908 and 1912, Olympic gold medals were actually made from solid gold of various shapes and sizes. In London, in 1908, for example, Olympic gold medals measured just 35mm in diameter, but nonetheless consisted of 72 grams of 14 (58%) carat gold. The gold content alone made such medals worth in excess of £1,750 each, by modern standards. Nowadays, they regularly change hands for ten times that amount or more.
By contrast, according to the IOC specification, modern Olympic gold medals must measure at least 60mm in diameter and 3mm in thickness. Solid gold has long been dispensed with, though, replaced by silver, weighing 210 grams, coated with at least 6 grams of 24 carat gold. It appears that modern Olympic gold medals are no less desirable, as far as collectors are concerned, regularly fetching tens of thousands at auction, depending on rarity.