Did you know that Olympians in ancient Rome competed for olive wreaths? However, it wasn’t until 1896 and 1900 that the first Modern Olympians competed for silver and bronze medals respectively.
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But, what about the creme de la creme of medals? It wasn’t until the St. Louis Summer Olympics in 1904 that gold medals began to be awarded to Olympic champions.
The Olympic Games feature thousands of medals that are designed, produced, and awarded every four years. Since the introduction of medals, there have been close to 20,000 medals awarded to athletes. FYI, Micheal Phelps is the proud owner of 28 of them!
Athletes value the Olympic medal for its emotional value, regardless of its size, design, or price. The price of Olympic medals does not only apply to the host country that produces them, but also to countries that award medals with prize money.
Aside from their iconic nature, what makes Olympic medals so special? And, how much is each gold medal worth to winners?
What Are Olympic Medals Made Out Of?
Medals made for the Olympics aren’t entirely made of the same metals that are named after them. A bronze Olympic medal, for instance, is composed of 95% copper and 5% zinc, according to Newsweek.
On the other hand, gold and silver medals are crafted from pure silver. There is a difference, though, in that the first-place medal has at least six grams of pure gold plated onto it.
Gold was trading at around $61 per gram on February 77, which makes six grams of gilding alone worth well north of $350. And that’s without taking into account the silver, which makes up the other 92.5%.
How Much Do Olympic Medals Weigh?
Each Olympic Games has a different medal size. In general, Winter Games medals are slightly larger than their Summer Games counterparts. However, medals must measure between 70 millimeters (2.76 inches) and 120 millimeters in diameter. And, it must be between three and ten millimeters thick.
Each medal weighs between 500 and 800 grams or 17.64 to 28.22 ounces. The gold medal is slightly heavier than the silver medal, while the bronze medal is much lighter. There were 556 grams of gold medals at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, 550 grams of silver medals, and 450 grams of bronze medals.
Aside from that, each Summer and Winter Olympics features unique designs, which are usually inspired by the host city. Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics are named “Tong Xin,” which means “together as one.”
According to the Olympic website, the medal design is “based on Chinese ancient jade concentric circle pendants with the five rings representing the Olympic spirit to bring people together and the splendor of the Olympic Winter Games being shared all over the world.”
The Ecstasy of Gold
The high costs of training and equipment for obscure sports that don’t pay make it difficult for most Olympians to break even over the course of their careers. If an athlete brings home a medal, however, he or she is rewarded with a much-needed financial bump.
A Forbes report indicates that among the 91 countries sending athletes to this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, more than one in three will reward medalists with cash prizes. Only four countries will not award cash prizes to its medalists.
In terms of gold medals, the most generous nation is Turkey, which will pay roughly $380,000, notes Ben Knight. As an independent competitor from China at the Olympics, Hong Kong is promising as much as $642,000. Both delegations have never won an Olympic medal in the Winter Olympics, though these are largely theoretical exercises.
What about Team USA? America rewards its gold medalists with a $37,500 prize. Following that are silver and bronze medals, which are each worth $15,000 and $22,500, respectively. By international standards, it’s hardly anything to brag about. For example, gold medal winners in Slovakia will receive $56,000 and in South Korea, it’s $52,000.
It should be noted, though, that this money is on top of the grants and benefits, such as health insurance through Elite Athlete Health Insurance., that are afforded to Team USA athletes. All of that was paid by the United States Paralympic Committee, which fundraises through a nonprofit foundation and does not receive any federal dollars. SOPC’s Athlete Career and Education program also offers special grants, including tuition assistance for college to Olympians.
Some countries, like the UK, don’t offer medal bonuses. They do, however, provide an annual stipend of $36,000 USD for training and competing.
The 20-Countries Offering Six-Figure Payouts for Gold Medalists
The following list shows the top 20 countries and territories that offer gold medal winners six-figure payouts. Also, the prizes are listed in U.S. dollars.
1. Singapore (Gold Medal Bonus: $737,000)
According to the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), the major awards program from 2017 to 2020 stated that gold medal recipients would receive an astounding $737,000. That’s nearly 20 times more than what the U.S. pays it’s gold medal athletes!
The prize money is taxable, and the winners must return a portion of it to their national sports associations. Why? Because this money will be used for future training and development.
2. Taiwan (Chinese Taipai) (Gold Medal Bonus: $720,000)
In a not-so-distant second place is Taiwan which pays gold medal winners an impressive $720,000. Known as Chinese Taipai at the Olympics, Taiwan, “the rewards actually trickle down below the podium spots,” writes Knight in a 2021 piece. Olympians who finish seventh or eighth in their events still claim 900,000 New Taiwan dollars ($32,000). If you recall, that’s almost as much as a gold medalist from the United States.
3. Hong Kong (Gold Medal Bonus: $642,000)
Since its first Winter Olympic appearance in 2008, Hong Kong has not won any medals. However, it did give out the same big prize last year, states Knight. Fencing champion Cheung Ka-long won gold in the men’s foil event in Tokyo. As part of the city’s Henderson Land Commendation Scheme for Elite Athletes, Cheung Ka-long earned 5 million Hong Kong dollars (about $642,000 at the current exchange rate).
As of February 7, the Hong Kong Sports Federation & Olympic Committee offers smaller rewards as well, including $1,900 for gold.
4. Turkey (Gold Medal Bonus: $383,000)
As opposed to the Turkish lira, republic gold is the currency by which medal bonuses are calculated in Turkey. Taking first place in an Olympic individual event is worth roughly $380,000, and setting an Olympic record is worth half as much.
What’s more, a gold medalist has the option of securing a pension that equals twice the net minimum wage each month. However, Turkey has yet to win a medal at the winter games on snow or ice despite competing at 17 winter games.
5. Thailand (Gold Medal Bonus: $365,150)
Panipak “Tennis” Wongpattanakit of Thailand won the taekwondo olympics gold medal on the opening day of the 2020 Summer Games for 12 million baht (US$365,150).
Overall, gold medals in Thailand are worth 365,150 dollars, silver medals are worth $219,090 dollars, and bronze medals are worth 146,060 dollars.
6. Indonesia (Gold Medal Bonus: $346,000)
In 2021, Nikkei reported that Indonesia would pay silver and bronze medalists, including silver medalist Eko Yuli Irawan. For a gold medal, a prize of 5 billion rupiah ($346,000), for a silver, 2 billion rupiah ($280,000) and for a bronze, a prize of 1 billion rupiah ($10,000).
7. Kazakhstan (Gold Medal Bonus: $250,000)
Prior to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Kazakhstan announced it would award $250,000 to every national athlete who won a gold medal. Silver medal winners would receive $150,000, while bronze winners would be paid $75,000.
8. Malaysia (Gold Medal Bonus: $238,000)
Malaysia is participating in its second Winter Games in 2022, and will be represented by skiers Aruwin Salehhuddin and Jeffrey Webb. In the event that they win a gold medal, they will be eligible for a government payment of roughly $238,000 plus a lifetime allowance of approximately $1,200, says Knight.
As well as Croatia, which has won 11 medals in the Winter Olympics, some other countries offer pensions to medalists. It gives medalists lifetime allowances starting at the age of 45. Gold medalists will receive 100% of the average national salary (about $1,100 in 2021), silver medalists 80%, and bronze medalists 60%, he adds.
9. Azerbaijan (Gold Medal Bonus: $235,000)
Gold medalists in Azerbaijan earn more than $250,000 besides the government-backed incentive of 400,000 Azeri manat. Those who win a silver medal receive 200,000 AZN ($124,000), while those winning a bronze medal get 100,000 AZN ($62,000).
10. Morocco (Gold Medal Bonus: $225,067)
Morocco offers the largest prize money in Africa, paying $225,067 (Sh24,480,537) to its gold medalist, $140,667 (Sh15,300,349) for its silver medalist, and $84,400 (Sh9,180,188) for its bronze medalist.
10. Italy (Gold Medal Bonus: $201,000)
“Italy is an Olympic power, finishing seventh in total medal count at last year’s Tokyo Summer Games with 40 and 13th at the last Winter Games, in PyeongChang in 2018, with ten,” reports Knight for Forbes.
The nation spent more than $9 million for its haul in Tokyo, paying roughly $212,000 for gold, $106,000 for silver, and $71,000 for bronze.
11. Philippines (Gold Medal Bonus: $200,000)
Hidilyn Diaz won a gold medal in the women’s 55kg weightlifting event at the 2020 Summer Games to become the Philippines’ first-ever gold medalist. For winning gold, Diaz will receive $200,000 from the Philippine Sports Commission.
According to Nikkei, “Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has pledged to pay Diaz 3 million pesos out of his own pocket and provide the weightlifter a furnished house and a land lot in her hometown in southern Mindanao.”
12. Cyprus (Gold Medal Bonus: $168,000)
Did you know that Cyprus has attended every Winter Olympics since 1980? However, it has never won a medal. For those who do, however, the Cyprus Sports Organization offers a payout for all 16 finishes: roughly $168,000 for a gold medal, $140k for silver, and $12k for bronze, down to $11,000 for 16th place.
13. Latvia (Gold Medal Bonus: $159,000)
Depending on the government’s budget, Latvia will pay Olympians up to a certain amount. Athletes will receive $144,288 (roughly $159,000) for gold in individual sports in 2022, while teams will receive up to $426,862 ($477,000) to split.
Furthermore, Latvia pays for finishes a few spots past the podium, up to and including sixth place. Other countries like Germany and Liechtenstein do the same.
14. Hungary (Gold Medal Bonus: $156,000)
Hungarian bronze medalists receive nearly eight-tenths of a million forints in bonuses. A silver medal costs $111,000. And, payments are distributed through the top eight places in each event, explains Knight.
15. Bulgaria (Gold Medal Bonus: $143,000)
Athletes from Bulgaria who win gold medals in individual sports can earn up to $143,000 based on the Ministry of Youth and Sports’ budget. To date, however, athletes have always been awarded the maximum, the government claims.
16. Lithuania (Gold Medal Bonus: $143,000)
Lithuania’s government ties its medal bonuses to the country’s basic social benefit, a monthly amount that’s used to calculate social security benefits, explains Knight. Gold medalists from the Beijing Games will receive a cash prize of 3,049 BSB, or approximately $143,000. And, if athletes reach the eighth place, the cash prize is 153 BSB, equivalent to about $7,000.
17. Kosovo (Gold Medal Bonus: $123,000)
Kiana Kryeziu and Albin Tahiri are two of the country’s skiers competing at their second Winter Games. Approximately $112,000 will be paid by the country’s Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport for each gold medal, plus roughly $11,000 by the national Olympic committee.
Furthermore, for an Olympic-record performance, athletes can receive an additional $112,000 from the government. Kosovo, however, isn’t the only country to pony up for a record-breaker. In Portugal, for example, the government will pay about $56,000 per gold medal, plus roughly $17,000 for a record.
18. Estonia (Gold Medal Bonus: $112,000)
The Estonian Olympic Committee awards gold medals worth approximately $112,000, silver medals worth $78,000, and bronze medals worth $50,000. The committee will also increase an athlete’s stipend if they win a gold medal.
Gold medalists receive a salary of $4,500 over two years, with the same preparation funding as “A-level” athletes each month, states Knight.
19. Spain (Gold Medal Bonus: $111,562)
Spain’s Olympic Committee awards gold medalists in individual events around $111,000, silver medalists about $56,000, and bronze medalists about $35,000. Team medalists, though, are awarded less.
20. Czech Republic (Gold Medal Bonus: $110,000)
The Czech Republic, which joins Sweden as having the ninth-largest delegation at the 2022 Winter Games, has 116 athletes competing in Beijing, but 48 are from its hockey teams, Knight writes. Compared to individual-sport athletes, team-sport athletes receive smaller bonuses from the National Sports Agency. For example, they receive $110,000 for a gold medal, $82,000 for a silver medal, and $55,000 for a bronze medal.
How Much Each Gold Medal is Worth in the Rest of the World
United States: $37,500
South Africa: $37,000
Great Britain: $0
Frequently Asked Questions About Gold Medals
1. When was the first Olympic gold medal?
During the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, USA, gold medals became the first award for Olympic champions, notes Guinness World Records. Previously, gold had been too expensive, so the winner of an event was awarded a silver medal, the runner-up a bronze, and the third-place competitor did not receive a medal.
2. Are gold medals actually made from gold?
Originally, gold medals were made of solid gold. ABC News reports gold medals were solid gold until 1912, when World War II caused a shortage. Supposedly, this is where the tradition to bite down on a medal came from – it’s supposedly a way to test for purity, though the science isn’t clear.
Gold medals contain only about 1.34 percent gold today; sterling silver makes up the rest.
3. How much is an Olympic Gold Medal worth?
Despite being priceless, it is also worth at least $750 at current metal prices, reports NBC New York. Regulations of the International Olympic Committee mandate that gold medals contain at least 92.5% silver, plated with at least 6 grams of gold.
However, athletes receive bonuses for winning a gold medal from their national Olympic committee or government, which can be six figures.
4. Are gold medal bonuses taxable?
That depends. The medal bonuses in some countries are considered taxable income, while in others, they are exempt from taxation. That’s a big bonus in Denmark, which has the highest tax rate in the world and grants roughly $15,000 tax-free per gold medal.
The IRS previously considered Olympic medals and bonuses to be taxable, just like other prize winnings, such as casino winnings and lottery winnings states Mitchell S. Halpern. The IRS considers cash prize winnings to be income, so the winners are taxed on that income.
Under the United States Appreciation for Olympians and Paralympians Act, which was signed by President Obama into law in October 2016, taxable prizes and awards are exempt for medals and cash bonuses awarded to U.S. Olympic or Paralympic athletes.
The victory tax does not apply to high-profile athletes who earn more than $1 million annually (such as players on the United States Olympic basketball team).
5. Are gold medal winners compensated in other ways?
There are also other compensations offered to winners in these countries besides. Other perks include stipends, housing, free flights, lifetime supplies of beer, and military exemptions. Furthermore, if a nation does not provide financial compensation explicitly for medal winners, like Iceland and Britain, they may still award various grants to athletes.
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