The rewards from the modern Olympics are a far cry from the ancient games, where the first prize was an olive wreath to wear and hang outside your door afterward, to signify a champion lived here. Now, the champion’s face appears on almost every conceivable kind of advertising venue, because winning a gold medal is literally worth its weight in endorsements.
But the gold is no longer real gold. And even the first gold medals were silver. That’s because in 1896 when the game was revived, gold was considered an inferior metal, and the first place winners received medals made of silver. That was changed to gold in 1904 at the St. Louis’ games, but given the price and paucity, it was changed once more, and the last pure gold medals were given out in 1912.
Today, Olympic medals must meet stringent requirements for content and size, with some flexibility in design. A gold medal must be a minimum of just under 2 1/2 inches wide, and 1/8 of an inch thick. The main form must be made of 92.5 percent pure silver, coated with at least six grams of pure gold. Silver medals are made of the same grade of silver, and bronze is made of…well, bronze.