Every Olympics we get to watch some of the world’s greatest athletes step onto podiums and receive medals as awards. Bronze for third, silver for second and, of course, gold for first place. But, have you ever wondered why gold gets the top spot? What is it about this metal that makes it more precious than silver or bronze? For the answer, we turn to our friends at The Columbia Tribune.
Gold medals weren’t given to winners of Olympic events until 1904 at the games in St. Louis. Before that, winners were given silver medals, second place bronze and third place copper. In ancient Olympic games, the winner received a wreath made of an olive branch.
Today, the gold, silver and bronze medals are in part designated by how rare the specific metals are. As The Columbia Tribune tells us:
The three metals used in Olympic medals are located in the same column of the periodic table. This means they share many of the same characteristics that make them good materials to create medals from. Remember that bronze is made up of mostly copper. Copper is at the top of the column, so it is the least rare — third place. Silver is one level down, rarer than copper — second place. Finally, gold is one step below silver on the column, so it is the rarest of the three — first place.
There are other characteristics of gold that makes it ideal for awards and as a valuable asset.
It doesn’t corrode. This means that gold, unlike aluminum or steel that can rust, will keep its shine and doesn’t interact with materials around it.
It is easy to test the purity of gold which means spotting fakes is simple.
There is only one grade (quality) of gold. Diamonds, for example, have lots of characteristics and imperfections that make some diamonds better quality than others. Gold is pretty much gold and is consistent.
It is easy to melt and shape into designs like bars, coins, and medals.
But remember, the value of Olympic medals are not in how much gold is in them. The medal is just a representation of success - that the athlete worked hard and won against the best competition in the world. That is priceless. So don’t expect many Olympic winners to sell their medals.