Are Olympic Medals Solid Gold?

Gold medals, which have been given out at every Olympics since the 1904 games in St. Louis, represent the greatest honor for a competing athlete.

Each Olympic medal must include the five rings symbol, the Greek goddess of victory Nike in front of the Panathinaikos Stadium in Athens and the official name of the respective Games (Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020), according to the International Olympic Committee.

Despite the uniform elements, there is some flexibility from hosts to add their own style to the designs.

So, are Olympic medals solid gold?

What Are the Olympic Medals Made Of?

Junichi Kawanishi, director of the Japan Sign Design Association, designed the medals for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The medals this year are made from material recycled from electronic devices donated by the Japanese public, the organizers confirmed in a social media post. The Twitter post joked that the medals were not edible, despite many athletes biting them.

According to the official Olympics website, to produce the medals the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games conducted the "Tokyo 2020 Medal Project" to collect small electronic devices such as used mobile phones from all over Japan.

Around 5,000 medals were produced from the small electronic devices that Japanese people contributed. It made Tokyo the first Olympic and Paralympic host to ever involve citizens in the production of medals and the first to manufacture them using recycled, more sustainable metals.

Sunisa Lee wins gold at Tokyo Olympics
Sunisa Lee of Team United States poses with her gold medal after winning the Women's All-Around Final on day six of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 29, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. The Tokyo gold medals have been valued at $820 due to the inflated prices of precious metals used like gold and silver. Jamie Squire/Getty

"We hope that our project to recycle small consumer electronics and our efforts to contribute to an environmentally friendly, sustainable society will become a legacy of the Tokyo 2020 Games," the organizers say on the official website.

As well as providing the materials, the public were also invited to submit ideas for medal designs before the Games. The competition was open to professional designers and design students, attracting more than 400 entries.

How Much Gold Is in a Gold Medal?

Despite having the appearance of the luxury yellow metal, these medals are actually mainly composed of silver. The required amount of silver in Olympic gold medals is at least 92.5 percent, the gold itself only making up the plating on the outside.

A representative from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) told Newsweek: "The medals for first and second places shall be of silver of at least 925-1000 grade; the medal for first place shall be gilded with at least 6g of pure gold."

The Tokyo gold medals have been valued at $820 due to the inflated prices of precious metals used like gold and silver, according to a CNBC calculation.

The silver medals meanwhile are made up of pure silver and the bronze medals are made from 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc.

Size and Weight

The size and weight of Olympic medals do vary. the IOC told Newsweek that medals start from a minimum size of 70 millimeters (2.76 inches) up to a maximum 120 millimeters in diameter, and minimum 3 millimeters to a maximum 10 millimeters thick. Medals should weigh in at between 500 and 800 grams (17.64 to 28.22 ounces), with the coveted gold medals weighing about 556 grams in total. The Olympic silver medals weigh 550 grams and bronze medals weigh 450 grams.

This year's medals are around five percent lighter than those minted by PyeongChang for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

All medals have the name of the event engraved in English on the side of each.

The U.S. holds the world record for the most gold medals won at an Olympic Games by a single country, winning 83 golds at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Caeleb Dressel at the Tokyo Olympics
Caeleb Dressel of the USA on the podium with his gold medal after winning the men's 100m freestyle final on Day Six of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 29 in Tokyo, Japan. Despite having the appearance of the luxury yellow metal, these medals are actually mainly composed of silver. Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Why Do Olympians Bite Their Medals?

It has been a long tradition for winning Olympians to bite their medals after receiving them.

David Wallechinsky, executive committee member of the International Society of Olympic Historians, told CNN in 2012 the biting is likely an attempt to get a good photo for the media.

"It's become an obsession with the photographers," says Wallechinsky, who co-wrote The Complete Book of the Olympics. "I think they look at it as an iconic shot, as something that you can probably sell. I don't think it's something the athletes would probably do on their own."

How Do the Winners Put on Their Medals?

At this year's games, the athletes themselves put on their medals due to safety concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic.

Traditionally, they are awarded and put around the athlete's neck by an IOC member. Typically, the athlete would also shake the member's hand. But this year, medals are presented to the winners on a tray for them to take themselves. To stop the spread of the coronavirus, there has been no handshaking.