It was one of those moments. Most people who are old enough to remember know exactly where they were when they heard or where they watched. It was that big and that important. The year was 1980 and the place was Lake Placid, New York. The event was hockey at the Winter Olympics, and the world’s two superpowers were battling it out in the semifinals. Who would win had ramifications far beyond any game. This was a contest of politics, world affairs and good versus evil. Whoever won this matchup would own a perceived view of strength, not just in this team sport, but as an entire country. There was so much more on the line than a shot at the finals and the gold-medal round.
The United States would go on to win that game against the Soviets. Then they fulfilled their dreams by beating Finland in the next and final round to win one of the most improbable gold medals in Olympic history. That 1980 team became legends. Some of those athletes from that winning squad signed endorsement deals. All of them cashed in on their success in one way or another. Each of their gold medals were the same, yet the fortune that came with that victory over the Russians far exceeded the monetary value of the metal hanging around their necks.
An Olympic gold medal is extremely valuable in multiple ways. The first example is in the actual metal. The gold medal given to winners is technically 92.5 percent silver, 6.16 percent copper and less than 1.34 percent gold. The Olympics stopped giving out solid gold medals at the 1912 Stockholm Winter Olympics.
The most recent gold medals handed out at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio were worth about $548.
The real value of an Olympic gold medal resides not in the metal itself, but in the athlete who won it and the historic value it represents. Example: a gold medal from a member of the 1980 hockey team is worth more than one from a 1984 individual skeet shooter, since there was no historical significance to that summer event, and the person that won it is not remembered. In fact, the only one that might recall the winner of the event is Google, and therefore the value of the gold medal will remain the same as that of its actual precious metal.
However, the true value of any Olympic medal has more to do with the personality of the winner that earned it. The reason the 1984 skeet shooter’s medal is only worth its weight in gold, silver and copper is because the person who won it wasn’t memorable. We remember gymnastics from that very same year, because of athletes like Mary Lou Retton.
We also remember Ms. Retton after the 1984 Olympics from her endorsements, such as being on the cover of the Wheaties cereal box and the book deal she received.
Spraining her ankle during the Games, but still going on to win gold put her at the forefront of people’s minds. It made for a lasting moment and ended up earning her millions of dollars as a result.
Would an athlete ever sell their gold medal? Think about if you were an Olympian and had trained your whole life for that fleeting moment of athletic glory. Would you sell the trophy that marked your personal achievement?
Some would and have. Mark Wells, a player from the 1980 Hockey Team, sold his to help pay medical bills for treatment of his rare genetic disease. Anthony Ervin gave up his gold medal for charity, selling it on eBay in 2004 and donating the $17,101 it generated to the victims of the Indian Ocean Tsunami.
Whether for charity, profit or out of necessity, selling Olympic medals is very rare, and are almost never sold for the actual value of the precious metals it’s made of.
Not every Olympic victory comes with its own nickname. But the story of the 1980 men’s United States Olympic hockey team beating the Soviet Union was a sporting event that will live in infamy, and truly lived up to its nickname, the ‘Miracle on Ice.’ One of the gold medals earned as a result of that win sold at auction for over $310,000. Many players from that squad went on to sign endorsement deals, adding money and influence to that already prestigious accomplishment.
Olympic gold medals are worth a significant amount. Participants also win additional money from their home countries, but the thrill and historic meaning of victory far exceeds any monetary value of the precious metal.