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A History of Olympic Gold: Just How Pure Are Gold Medals?

There is a common sight that fans of the Olympic Games may notice during the medal ceremony at both the summer and winter games. After winning gold, a victorious athlete steps down from the podium and bites their medal while grinning into the camera. Because gold is a soft metal, there is an old trope that biting into it can verify its purity by ensuring that the gold is not layered over a harder, lesser metal. Coin dealers will tell you this isn’t a foolproof way to test purity. Still, the tongue-in-cheek pantomime persists. Modern gold medals are not, in fact, made of solid gold. So, what exactly are gold medals made of?

The Early Olympics

US Oplympic team with gold medals

The modern Olympic Games trace their origins back to the eighth century B.C. when Greek city-states would compete against one another in a variety of sporting events. The games were revived in 1896 and were held under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and have been ever since. At the earliest iterations of the Olympic Games, the medals were, in fact, made of solid gold. Host committees would have to mint the medals themselves and would often buy gold coins or bars to melt down. The last pure gold medals were awarded in Stockholm in 1912.

What Are “Gold” Medals Made of Today?

Today, the IOC has strict regulations for gold medals. While each country is allowed a degree of creativity over the size and design, they must abide by specific baseline standards. Each medal must be at least 60 mm (about 2.4 inches) in diameter, and 3 mm thick. Gold medals must contain a minimum of 6 grams of gold plated over sterling silver (92.5% pure silver). Medals can be larger and contain more gold, but these are the general rules for the modern Olympic Games.

While Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers may not carry Olympic medals, we do have an extensive inventory of gold, silver, and platinum coins and bullion, as well as rare coins for sale. Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers will also buy gold coins and other items at fair prices, after a free appraisal. We are one of the most trusted and transparent precious metal and coin dealers in the Atlanta metro area. Call us today at (404) 236-9744 to schedule an appointment or for more information.

Tony Davis
Tony Davis