16 Little-Known Secrets Behind Olympic Medals
What gold medals are really made of, how much they’re worth at McDonald’s, why Irish painters used to win them, and more.
Medals have wildly different perks in different nations
Any South Korean athlete who wins an Olympic medal, for example, becomes exempt from the country’s mandatory two-year military service for males aged 18 to 35.
Gold medals are NOT worth their weight in gold
In fact, regulations state that gold medals must be at least 92.5 percent silver, and plated with as few as six grams of gold. There hasn’t been a solid gold medal since 1912.
Gold medals can still be valuable though
Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko auctioned his gold medal for a children’s charity in 1996. A buyer purchased it for $1 million—then immediately returned the medal out of respect to Klitschko and his family.
Gold medals can also be very costly
In 1984, McDonald’s ran a campaign that gave customers a chance to win a free Big Mac every time the U.S. won a gold medal. The U.S. won a shocking 83 gold medals, costing McDonald’s millions of dollars in lost profits. Here are more mind-blowing facts you never knew about McDonald’s.
The strangest material to become an Olympic medal?
Probably a meteorite. Ten gold medals in the 2014 Sochi Games contained pieces of the massive meteor that exploded over Russia in February, 2013.
America has the most Olympic medals by far
No nation approaches Team U.S.A.’s combined 2,681 summer and winter Olympic medals. Though it hasn’t existed for 25 years, the Soviet Union still comes in second place with 1,204 medals. Great Britain, in third, has 806. Team GB is, however, the only team to have won at least one gold medal at every single Summer Games since the modern Olympics began in 1896.
One unlikely title America will defend at the Rio Games is…
…World rugby champions. After Team U.S.A. won the gold for rugby in 1924, the sport was stricken from the Olympic program for 92 years. America has been the reigning rugby champ since.
Ireland’s first Olympic medal was for painting
Jack Butler Yeats—brother of poet W.B. Yeats—won a silver medal for his oil canvas, The Liffy Swim, in 1924. He was vanquished by a Luxembourgian artist who submitted two paintings of rugby, which hardly seems fair.
Art competitions were part of the Olympics for decades
Five art categories—painting, literature, music, sculpture, and architecture—were introduced in the 1912 Olympics as the “Pentathlon of the Muses,” and remained official events until 1948. Other artsy-fartsy pursuits that could once earn you an Olympic medal: town planning, epic poetry, statues, watercolors, chamber music, and plaques.