What’s behind those shiny Olympic medals?

By Christopher Connell

Those shiny gold medals around the necks of triumphant Olympic athletes represent a priceless honor.

Well, almost priceless.

The precious metals in the gold-plated medallions for the Pyeongchang Games actually are worth $576, according to Dillon Gage, a metals dealer in Dallas.

The medallions are almost entirely silver — 580 grams — with six grams of gold. There’s $318 of silver in the silver medals and $29 of copper and zinc in the bronze ones, by Gage’s calculation.

Of course, nobody melts their Olympic medals.

For many of the athletes, they will be worth more than their weight in gold in commercial endorsements. And some medal winners will earn cash bonuses from their national Olympic committees. (The games’ organizer, the International Olympic Committee, doesn’t give cash prizes.)

Some countries’ Olympic committees bestow hundreds of thousands of dollars, others nothing. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling pocketed 1 million Singapore dollars ($753,000 U.S.) for upsetting Michael Phelps in the 100-meter butterfly.

At the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, American gold medal athletes will get $37,500, with $22,500 for the silver medalists and $15,000 for bronze from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The medal’s front displays the Olympic rings atop diagonal, striated lines inspired by the texture of tree trunks. The event name and symbols are on the reverse. Consonants from the Korean alphabet line the edge.The medals are works of art, uniquely designed for each Olympics. Celebrated South Korean designer Lee Suk-woo created the elegant motif for the 222 sets of medals up for grabs in 102 events in Pyeongchang.

Collectors covet Olympic medals. Big auction houses regularly put medals from past Olympics up for bidding.

Usually they sell in the thousands of dollars, but one of the four track gold medals that American Jesse Owens won at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin fetched $1.5 million in December 2013, long after his death. Mark Wells, a player on the victorious 1980 U.S. hockey team, sold his medal for $310,000 in 2010 to pay medical bills.

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