A gold medal has been awarded to the top Olympic athlete in an event since the 1904 St. Louis Summer Olympics. Although this tradition has stuck, many things have changed since the St. Louis games.
I hadnt planned on writing much about the St. Louis Olympics, but some of the research proved too bizarre to hold back. For starters, the games were supposed to be in Chicago; but, the World Fair organizers in St. Louis promised to hold their own sporting event that would eclipse the Olympic games, unless they were awarded the games. So, the games were awarded to St. Louis.
During the marathon, Frederick Lorz dropped out of the race after nine miles and rode a car back to the start/finish to collect his clothes. But, the car broke down so he had to run the rest of the way. When officials thought he was the first to finish, he played along but was later found out and was banned for a year. He won the Boston Marathon the following year.
The actual winner of the marathon, Thomas Hicks, had a bit of help from his trainers who gave him a mix of brandy and strychnine sulfate â€” a common rat poison which would "stimulate" the nervous system in small doses. Another runner, cuban postman Felix Carbajal, rested in an Apple orchard where he snacked on rotten apples. He ended up taking a nap but still finished in fourth place.
The first two Africans to compete in the Olympics did so by chance. They also ran the marathon, although they were actually in town as part of the Boer War exhibit in the World Fair. They finished ninth and twelfth, although many were disappointed in the ninth place finish by Len Tau. Many believed he could have done better if he wasnâ€™t chased a mile off course by dogs.
The games officially lasted four months, but most of the events took place over a six day period. Since the World Fair was in the same city at the same time, the Olympics were almost a sideshow to the fair. This, combined with the fact that the games were so poorly organized, nearly made St. Louis the last Olympics. 108 years later, the tables have turned. The World Fair is not widely talked about, but it still exists: Expo 2012 wraps up on August 12th in Yeosu, South Korea.
South Korea is not shy of the Olympics though, they hosted the games in 1988. They picked up 13 gold medals four years ago in Beijing and will likely bring some back from London too. So, lets find out what itâ€™s worth.
Each of the 2012 London gold medals weigh in at approximately 400 grams. While it looks like solid gold, atomic element 79 only makes up 1.34% of the medal. The rest of the gold medal is 92.5% silver and 6.16% copper. This is pretty typical.
The International Olympic Committee requires that gold medals contain at least 6 grams of gold and a minimum of 92.5% silver. The silver medal must also contain a minimum of 92.5% silver.
Two years ago, Vancouverâ€™s Olympic gold was 575 grams. Although much heavier than Londonâ€™s, this yearâ€™s medals are actually the most costly ever awarded due to the high price of gold.
In fact, gold prices have significantly increased the cost and value of recent olympic medals. In 2004, an Athenâ€™s gold medal was worth about $155 in raw materials. Beijingâ€™s 2008 gold contents were worth about $393. Vancouverâ€™s came in around $508 and Londonâ€™s gold medals could be melted down to about $728 worth of gold and silver (approx $334 in gold + $394 silver).
But, donâ€™t expect to find one at your local pawn shop. Because of their rarity, symbolic and sentimental significance they are worth far more than their weight in gold (and silver). Olympic medals are rarely ever sold, but it does happen. In 2004, a Polish athlete auctioned her gold medal for charity, which fetched $82,599 for children with leukemia.