Athletes like Caeleb Dressel, Simone Biles, and Katie Ledecky have just had their Summer Olympics medals for around six months when it’s time for them to compete for brand new, glistening Winter Olympics medals.
Find out how Olympic medals have evolved throughout time, what the Beijing versions will look like, and what competitors do after winning one.
When did the First Olympic Medals Get Handed Out?
Olive wreaths, not medals, were awarded to the winners of the original Olympic Games, which were held as early as 776 BCE.
The practise of presenting medals to winners dates back to the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens. A silver medal was presented to the winner, a bronze medal to the runners-up, and no prizes were given out to those who placed lower.
It was at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis that the now-famous practise of awarding gold, silver, and bronze medals to the top three finishers in each event began.
Each award is custom made by the local organising committee. For compliance with IOC regulations, each medal must incorporate the following features:
In front of the Panathinaikos Stadium in Athens, Greece, you’ll find a statue of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, alongside the official name of the Games (in this case, “XXIV Olympic Winter Games 2022”) and the Olympic five rings insignia.
The Question of Why Olympic Medalists Bite them Remains Unanswered.
You may have observed that after winning an Olympic medal, the athletes do not merely display it, but also… lick it?
Olympians commonly pose by biting their medals because it makes for wonderful photos. As one photographer put it, “It’s become an addiction among the photographers.”
I’m curious as to the historical precedent for Olympians’ custom of eating their medals. Biting coins was a common practise in the past to determine if they were made of gold or a cheaper metal that had been plated with gold.
Since gold is so much softer and more pliable than other metals, any attempt to bite into it would leave a dent. Unfortunately, this is not possible with the medals now awarded to Olympic winners because only 1.34 percent of the metal is pure gold.
Are Olympic Medals Collectibles?
While some Olympians proudly display their medals in their homes, others go to great lengths to conceal them.
Olympic record holder and swimmer Michael Phelps once revealed to Anderson Cooper that he transports his 18 gold medals in a cosmetic bag lined with a T-shirt. Footballer Christie Pearce (previously Rampone) said she concealed her medals in the kitchen, where she figured no one would look.
What is the Value of an Olympic Medal?
There have been athletes who have decided to sell their trophies. Olympic medals are not particularly valuable before they are presented to a deserving athlete. An Olympic gold medal from the 2018 PyeongChang Games would be valued around $577 if melted down, silver around $320, and bronze approximately $3.50.
Once an Olympian really has one of these medals, only then does its value truly begin to rise. Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko raised $1 million for a children’s charity by selling his gold medal from the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Selling his gold medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics on eBay, American swimmer Anthony Ervin was able to provide $17,101 to those who had lost everything in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Are Olympic Medals Earned by American Athletes Subject to Taxation?
Once upon a time, the United States Olympic Committee demanded that American athletes who won medals at the Olympics pay a “victory tax” on the value of their medals and the prize money awarded to them.
After Obama left office, the United States no longer has jurisdiction over Olympic competitors. In 2016, Obama signed a bill into law protecting Olympic medalists from having to pay taxes on any medals they earn for the United States.
The sole exemption is for individuals who make above $1 million a year, which leaves high-profile athletes like Michael Phelps out in the cold.