PyeongChang 2018

Everything You Need to Know About the 2018 Winter Olympic Medals

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea have finally arrived. You've waited four long years to get excited about winter sports you don't fully understand, and the time is here. Now 2,925 athletes representing 90 nations will be competing for glory and exactly 259 medals tied to colorful ribbons. But what's the deal with these medals? Is a gold medal even made of gold? Is it all just vanity?

We're glad you asked -- because you're about to get the answers below. And maybe a gold medal for curiosity.

What are the Olympic medals made of?

Well, it depends. Solid gold medals haven't been used in the Olympics since the 1912 Stockholm Games. According to current regulations from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), gold medals must contain at least 6 grams of pure gold and be made of roughly 92.5% silver. 

At the PyeongChang Games, the gold medal is made of silver with a purity of 99.9% that's plated with 6 grams of gold. The silver medal, naturally, is silver with a purity of 99.9%, which means the difference between the first place award and second place award is merely cosmetic. Meanwhile, the bronze medal is actually out of copper (Cu90-Zn10). 

How much does an Olympic gold medal weigh?

Gold: 586 grams

Silver: 580 grams

Bronze: 493 grams

How much are Olympic gold medals worth? 

Since these aren't hunks of solid gold, the medal's raw value may be a bit lower than you expected. Terry Hanlon, president of Dillon Gage Metals, revealed to CoinWeek that if you add up the value of the silver and gold present in an Olympic gold medal the value is roughly $577.41.

Obviously medals are worth more than their literal weight in gold. There's a lot of sentimental value in these trophies, and they aren't sold very often. When they are, their value depends on the athlete and event and the story behind them. For instance, one of Jesse Owen's medals from the 1936 Olympics in Berlin sold for $1,466,574. That's clearly an outlier, but it gives you some sense of how much these mean to collectors. Medals from the Winter Olympics actually tend to fetch more at auction. There are fewer sports in the Winter Games, which makes those medals rarer and increases their value.

It's also important to note that the payment for these medals doesn't usually come from the medals themselves. The US Olympic Committee pays athletes directly for their wins. This year, as part of Operation Gold, gold medalists will take home $37,500, silver medalists $22,500, and bronze medalists $15,000.

Do athletes pay taxes on Olympic Medals?

Athletes used to pay taxes on the money awarded to them for their medals. Partially thanks to Senator Chuck Schumer, the so-called "victory tax" was repealed back in October 2016. Between this exemption and an increase in the amount of money awarded to medalists -- it's up from $25,000 for gold in 2016 to $37,500 for gold this year -- US Olympians who win at PyeongChang will take home more than ever.

Why are winners holding stuffed animals and wooden boxes?

You may have noticed that after events the winners aren't toting medals or flowers. Instead they're holding, of all things, stuffed animals of the Winter Olympics mascot, Soohorang. These Soohorang have a gold, silver, or bronze hat in accordance with the athlete's performance, plus a paper flower called an uhsahwa. The actual medals are handed out at the end of the day at one big ceremony called the Medals Plaza, which you can watch nightly on the Olympic Channel.

At that ceremony, medalists are also given a small carved wooden gift that resembles an open box, which, according to the Games' website, is "adorned with mountain scenes of PyeongChang and characters from the Korean Hangul alphabet spelling out 'PyeongChang 2018' in the official Games motif." You can buy one of the mascots yourself for $60, but to get one of the boxes you need to be on that podium.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

James Chrisman is a News Writer at Thrillist. Send news tips to news@thrillist.com and follow him on Twitter @james_chrisman2.