Here Are 3 Estimates of the Actual Value of Olympic Medal

If you thought Olympic athletes could one day hawk their gold medals to live a life of luxury once their sponsorship deals had dried up, then think again — the coveted prizes are barely worth anything.

When medals first replaced trophies in 1904, it only took about ten years before manufacturers realized that solid gold medals were way too expensive to make.

Thus, they started mixing in metal fillers — such as second place silver — to bring production costs down.

Even though Rio’s 2016 gold medals are purer than ever, they’ll still barely contain any of the precious metal — made by the Brazilian Mint, they’ll weigh 500 grams (mostly silver) and contain only six grams of gold.

With the current price of gold, this makes the top prize at most Olympic games worth only about $600, as compared to more than $20,000 for the solid gold medals of the past.

Hopefully, no Olympians ever need to pursue a “cash for gold” scenario with their medals — not only because they’re not worth all that much, but also because that would just be plain sad.

For this year’s Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, over 100 medal ceremonies will take place across 15 sports. Because some of those are for multi-player sports like hockey and bobsled, the PyeongChang Organizing Committee has created about 260 sets of medals—gold, silver, and bronze—for this Winter Olympics.

How much is an Olympic gold medal actually worth?

An Olympic medal’s value matters because it doesn’t come with a check from the International Olympic Committee. Many countries, including the U.S., do supply winners with cash prizes for victories, but the amount can vary. The U.S. Olympic Committee has previously given winners about $25,000 for winning a gold, $15,000 for a silver and $10,000 for a bronze medal; Azerbaijan offered $510,000 to each gold medalist during the 2012 London Olympics.

Here, MONEY breaks down what athletes can expect to gain from their Olympic medals, once the games are over.

Olympic Medal’s Value as Scrap: Up to $577

With hundreds of medals won during each Olympics, it’s hardly surprising that some athletes (or their families) choose to sell their medals. But determining the value of the medal can be more complicated than it would appear at first glance.

For each Olympic games, a unique design is created to reflect the host country’s culture and symbols. And because each design is different, the weight and medal composition varies.

For the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, for instance, Korean designer Lee Suk-woo incorporated the Korean alphabet into the design. The gold, silver and bronze medals all weigh roughly a pound and are approximately a third of an inch thick, according to the PyeongChang Organizing Committee.

Yet athletes who win a gold medal are not receiving a solid gold disk. Starting with the 1912 games in Stockholm, the Olympic medals have been gold-plated, rather than solid gold. For the PyeongChang Games, the first-place medal will be plated with about 1% pure gold. That’s about 6 grams of the 586-gram total weight, the committee said.

With that in mind, the value of melting down a gold medal won at the PyeongChang Games would be about $577, we calculated using Silver medals, which are solid, would be worth about $320, while a bronze medal—which is made of a copper alloy—is worth only $3.50.

Olympic Medal’s Value at Auction: $20,000+ for Gold Medals

In general, you’ll get more money if you choose to sell an Olympic medal at auction, rather than melting it down. Today, a gold medal tends to sell at auction for between $20,000 and $50,000, says Jonathan Scheier, the consignment director of sports memorabilia at Heritage Auctions—the world’s largest auctioneer of sports collectables. Silver medals typically go for between $10,000 and $30,000, while bronze medals generally sell for less than $10,000.

Fame matters, too. “Gold would always be the most valuable,” Scheier says. “But a silver or bronze from a famous athlete could certainly command a higher price than a gold from a relative unknown.” Medals from Olympics greats like Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Michael Phelps, or Usain Bolt, for instance, would command much higher prices than an ordinary standard gold medal from any of these sports. “There are also plenty of examples that fall outside these ranges based upon factors of event, recipient and condition,” Scheier adds.

Are summer Olympics medals worth more than winter Olympics medals? Again, that depends a bit on the recipient. Overall, Olympic medals won at the Summer Games are more valuable at auction than Winter Games, Scheier says—but there are exceptions. For example, a hockey gold medal that Mark Wells earned during the “Miracle on Ice,” the 1980 battle in Lake Placid, N.Y., sold for $310,700.

The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic medals are displayed by young South Korean athletes during their unveiling at a ceremony in Seoul on September 21, 2017.
The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 medals were officially unveiled on September 21, with features of the Korean alphabet consonants on their bodies.

Olympic Medal’s Value in Endorsements: Priceless

Of course, even if an athlete does trade in their medal for cold, hard cash, they get to keep the title of Olympic champion—and the accompanying endorsement opportunities and speaking deals.

“When I look at what my medal gave me, it gave me a lifetime of door-opening and opportunity,” says Deidra Dionne, a Canadian skiing medalist who is now a director at marketing firm Cimoroni & Company.

For those looking to capitalize on their win with an endorsement deal, Dionne says the value of a medal can be more difficult to calculate. “It depends on so many different circumstances—including your gender, what country you’re from, what sport you’re in, the timing of your event in the Games and even how many Olympic medals your country wins,” she says.

Medals also carry a higher endorsement value when a player is expected to have more championships ahead. A first-time Olympic gold medalist at PyeongChang can expect endorsement deals in the future if he or she continues to compete successfully, Dionne says. For example, somebody like Lindsey Vonn has done well going into this Olympic games because of medals she’s won previously—and because she’s expected to keep winning, Dionne says.

However, athletes who don’t win an Olympic medal till late in their careers—and who therefore may not have many more championships ahead of them—are less likely to profit from big endorsements, Dionne explains.

Beyond endorsements, Dionne says an Olympic medal can be valuable for your career. Coming out of the Olympics, she did land partnerships and endorsements, but she was also able to enter law school and start a career outside of sports. “I was able to get into law school,” she says—”and I’d be naïve to think that writing in my resume that I’m an Olympic medalist doesn’t open that door.

“There are life opportunities I was able to have and continue to have because when I walk into a room, I will always be an Olympic medalist—and that is respected and gives me opportunities,” she adds.

Part of this Story appeared on MONEY

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