What are Olympic Medals made of?

When the games are over and the torch is put out, what’s next for an Olympic athlete? Some report straight to the cover of their country’s Wheaties® boxes. Others are so relieved to be out of the public eye, they rebound into lazy civilian behavior (you’ll recall Michael Phelps’s marijuana scandal and weight gain after his many victories in Beijing). While most of these athletes will flee the limelight until 2016, a small percentage of them will use their gold medals to pay for their livelihoods in the meantime.

So how much are their medals actually worth? Let’s take a look!

What are Olympic Medals made of?

Sorry medal fans: gold medals have not been solid gold since the Stockholm Games in 1912. Despite all their glory, the gold medals at the London Olympics are mostly silver with only thin gold platings, as opposed to being made of the more inherently valuable solid gold. But fortunately, for this season’s world-class athletes, for the first time, the silver content is worth more than the gold value.

Of course, this is not to say, however, that an Olympic Gold wouldn’t sell for a pretty penny. Despite what Olympic medals are made of, the medals have been auctioned off for up to seven figures, and many of the athletes donate their medal money to charities. As for individual sale, the estimated retail value of the London Olympics’ gold medal is $640, which is the most expensive to date, but roughly the same price as Apple’s new 16 gig 4G iPad.

Turning gold into cash

Medals won for gymnastics, track and field, and swimming are the most sought after when sponsors are looking for their brands’ new faces. British athletes who take home the gold in the London games have the potential to make hundreds of thousands a year for UK brands. That’s quite a salary, but it will only carry them to the next summer games in Rio. In addition to sponsorship, some countries offer incentive schemes for gold-winning athletes. It’s like your dad saying, “If you win the spelling bee, I’ll buy you a bike,” but in this case, the bike is a pile of cash. One of the biggest incentives this year comes from Singapore, granting 1 million Singapore dollars for a gold medal ($800,000 US). That seems like an expensive risk, but Singapore has yet to bring home an Olympic gold.

Additional glory

Russia, China, and the US have promised their athletes cold hard cash in return for gold medals, but Australian athletes may have the most enticing incentives: $20,000, upgrades for their flights home, and their very own Australian postage stamps.

Even if participating in the games isn’t in your future, a gold medal might be. Keep a look out for headlines on athletes giving up their gold. If you find you have too much gold on your hands, you can get help from a certified gold refining company, like Cash for Gold USA.

Marissa Rosado is a graduate of Emerson College in Boston. Her favorite Olympic sport is synchronized swimming.