The Fascinating Reason Olympic Medals Are No Longer Made of Solid Gold

Winning a gold medal at the Olympics is the pinnacle of an athlete's career. But if you've ever wondered if that treasured gold medal is actually made of gold, you're not alone. The answer is yes and no, stemming from circumstances that go back more than a century.

According to the International Olympic Committee, gold medals "must be gilded with at least 6 grams of pure gold." Typically, these medals are comprised of at least 92.5 percent silver, with the gold component making up only the plating on the outside (about 1.34 percent). Interestingly enough, gold medals were not even awarded at the first couple of modern Olympics. Instead, the winners received silver medals and a crown of olive branches, while the runners-up received bronze medals. It wasn't until 1904, with the St. Louis Olympics, that gold medals were first awarded in the medal scheme used today.

For just a few years, though, the gold medals were made of solid gold! According to ABC News, gold medals were solid gold until 1912, when World War II caused shortages. Legend has it that this is where the tradition of biting down on a medal comes from — it's supposedly a method of testing to see if the metal is pure, although the science behind it is iffy.

This year, for the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the medals have an incredibly meaningful design. The design is based on ancient Chinese jade pendants and features five concentric circles to represent the Olympic rings. The medals are named "Tong Xin," which means "together as one," to signify the unity created by the Olympic Games.