Everything You Need to Know About the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Medals

Did you know gold medals aren't actually solid gold? You do now!

Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images
Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are finally here. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, it has been a long five years of waiting, and, in athletes' cases, training.

From July 23 to August 8, 2021, athletes from all around the world will be competing for the gold, silver, and bronze. 

But there's so much more to these simple metal discs than meets the eye. For example, did you know that the gold medals aren't solid gold at all? They used to be, but not since the early 1900s. 

Keep reading for a wealth of knowledge about medals you can bust out during your viewing parties.

What are the Olympic medals made of?

The last time solid gold medals were used in the Olympics was 1912 at the Games in Stockholm. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has specific standards for each medal's metal content. Gold medals, for example, must contain at least 6 grams of pure gold, while silver medals have to be about 92.5% silver. Bronze medals are made with red brass, meaning they're 95% copper and 5% zinc. 

This year, the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games ran a special campaign called the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project, according to Olympics.com. The organization collected small electronic devices, like phones, from all across Japan to create all 5,000 of the medals. This makes the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games the first to involve the public in creating medals. It's also the first time the Games have manufactured medals using recycled metals.


Who designs Olympic medals?

Through the 2020 Medal Project, the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games launched a medal design competition. The public was invited to submit design ideas for this year's medals in the hopes of capturing the emotion of all those who participated. More than 400 concepts were submitted by both professional designers and design students.

The IOC requires that every medal, regardless of the year, includes three things:

1. Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, standing outside the Panathinaikos Stadium
2. The name of the games and the year (this year it's XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020)
3. The five-ring Olympic symbol

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic medals were designed by Jinichi Kawanishi, a design professional.

According to Olympics.com, "The design of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic medals reflects the concept that to achieve glory, athletes have to strive for victory on a daily basis. [...] The medals collect and reflect myriad patterns of light, symbolizing the energy of the athletes and those who support them. Their design is intended to symbolize diversity and represent a world where people who compete in sports and work hard are honored."

Do the ribbons hold any meaning?

This year, the ribbon will "employ the traditional Japanese design motifs found in ichimatsu moyo (harmonized chequered patterns) and kasane no irome (traditional kimono layering techniques) in a modern presentation," per Olympics.com, which adds that "The ribbon is designed to be a reflection of Japan itself."

How much does an Olympic gold medal weigh?

Gold: about 556 grams. 
Silver: about 550 grams.
Bronze: about 450 grams.

How much are Olympic gold medals worth?

The value of an Olympic gold medal depends largely on how much gold it contains and how much gold is worth at any given time. If the Tokyo 2020 gold medal contains 6 grams of gold, it would be worth about $345 today, according to this gold valuation site. In 2018, Olympic gold medals were valued at around $577. 

There's more to consider when guestimating the value of a gold medal, however. It's not just their weight in gold, but who it belonged to and other sentimental considerations. Gold medals aren't sold often, which makes them rare and increases their value. A Jesse Owens medal from the 1936 Olympics sold for $1.47 million dollars in 2013.

Winter Olympics medals tend to be worth more than those from Summer Games because there are fewer games in the Winter Olympics, making the medals rarer and thus more valuable. Sorry, summer athletes.

Do Olympic medalists get paid?

Olympians mainly make money for competing in the Games through endorsements. It's not clear how much they're taking home this year, but Team USA athletes who competed in the PyeongChang Olympics were the highest-paid in history at the time.

US gold medalists took home $37,000, silver medal winners received $22,500, and bronze medalists got $15,000 from the US Olympic Committee. Those Olympics also marked the first in which US athletes didn't have to pay a so-called "victory tax" on the money they won.

What else do Olympic medalists get?

Olympic medalists go home with their medals and prize money, but they also get gifts when they win. This year, medalists will stand on the podium with special victory bouquets, which haven't been used by a host city since the London 2012 Olympics.

Featured flowers include eustomas and Solomon's seals from Fukushima, sunflowers native to Miyagi, gentians from Iwate, and aspidistras native to Tokyo. You can find more about the meaning behind each flower here.

This year's Olympic mascot, Miraitowa, will be visible around the stems of each bouquet. 

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Caitlyn Hitt is Daria IRL. Don't take our word for it—find her on Twitter @nyltiaccc.