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Is an Olympic Gold Medal “Priceless”?

Last Updated: August 6, 2021
It’s arguably the greatest accomplishment in all of sports. So, let’s talk about what an Olympic gold medal is literally worth.

For countless competitors, gold medal glory is the pinnacle of sporting achievement. From the field to the court, from the track to the pool, that No. 1 position on the medal podium is the mountaintop for amateur and professional athletes all around the globe.

But for those fortunate enough to take one home, winning the gold can mean a whole lot of different things depending upon the winner’s sport, country, age, and personal circumstances. For some, getting the gold can mean fortune. For others, it can mean fame. And in some cases, getting a chance to taste Olympic gold can lead to new professional opportunities beyond sports.

The Gold Standard

The going rate for the gold medals handed out in Tokyo may not be what you think it is.

This year’s medals, which were designed by director of the Japan Sign Design Association Junichi Kawanishi, are made from a total of 78,985 tons of recycled electronic devices donated by the Japanese public.

And as it turns out, they contain only a few grams of pure gold. We’re talking about $800-$900 worth when melted down. For reference, a single troy ounce (31.1 grams) of pure gold trades on commodities markets at just over $1,800 as of this writing.

But that certainly doesn’t mean these medals are worthless.

A recent Olympic memorabilia event held by Boston-based RR Auction demonstrates that selling these prestigious medals can be… well, a gold mine.

Here’s a look at some of the medals on the move during the July 15-22 auction:

  • A rare first-place medal from the first modern Olympic Games from Athens in 1896 sold for $180,111 (literal gold medals did not exist in the first Olympiad).
  • A gold medal won by an unidentified member of the 1984 Team USA men’s basketball team fetched $83,188.
  • A gold medal presented to  Swedish wrestler Ivar Johansson at the Los Angeles 1932 Summer Olympics went for $45,375.
  •  A gold medal won by a member of the Argentinean men’s soccer team at the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics sold for $92,270.

Let’s not forget the many high-profile stories of former Olympic champions selling their medals due to financial hardship.

Of course, plenty of other athletes have opted to sell their gold medals for entirely different reasons altogether.

NBA legend Bill Russell, for example, intends to sell his 1956 Olympic gold medal, among other things, this fall — with some of the proceeds going to charity.

The First-place Payday

When it comes to getting paid for performance, the money each Olympic athlete earns for gold can vary dramatically from country to country.

In the Philippines, the payday for winning big goes beyond just the Philippine Peso. Filipino weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who took home the country’s first Olympic gold in a non-exhibition sport, could earn much more than the $600,000 she’s promised from the country’s sports commission and private businesses.

Even before the checks clear, she’s reportedly been offered two homes and free flights for life.

Such is life when you’re legitimately a national hero.

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While one may assume US athletes make bank for winning the gold compared to other countries, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, athletes from Singapore who win gold earn nearly 20 times more ($737,000) on average than a US athlete ($37,500).

American competitors, however, do receive additional support. This includes:

  • Grants
  • Stipends
  • Medical benefits
  • Tuition Assistance

And none of this takes into account the natural opportunities that await US athletes who bring home gold in the form of sponsorships, endorsements, appearances, and more. These opportunities include deals awaiting college athletes who will return from the Olympics and can start cashing in on their name, image, and likeness, too.

In the big picture, the financial upshot of bringing home Olympic gold can vary based on a wide range of factors, from timing to geography and beyond. But for those athletes looking to hold onto perhaps the single greatest honor in all of sports, a gold medal is still ultimately as priceless as it’s ever been.