Solid Gold: Seven Fun Facts About Olympic Medals

More than two dozen gold medals are now hanging around the necks of American athletes who've participated in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. But how much do you know about those medals? Here are seven fascinating facts courtesy of the Money Museum in Colorado Springs, which is currently hosting an exhibit of Olympic proportions:  Olympic Games — History & Numismatics.

7. “Citius, Altius, Fortius”
The Olympic motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (“Faster, Higher, Stronger”), has been the official motto of the Games since 1924. The motto has been featured on four Winter Games medals, but does not appear on any medals from the Summer Games.

6. A wreath for first place
During the first modern Olympics in 1896, first-place athletes were crowned with an olive wreath and awarded a silver medal. It was not until the 1904 Summer Olympic Games in St. Louis that the now-famous gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded.

5. Winter Games medals are heavier
Olympic medal designs have varied considerably over time. Award medals presented at the Summer Games tend to lean on a classical design, whereas medals awarded at the Winter Games have a more freestyle layout. The Winter Games medals are generally larger, thicker and heavier than those for the Summer Games.

Keep reading for more fun facts.

4.  Artistry worthy of Olympic medals
From 1912 to 1948, art competitions were held as part of the Olympic Games, and medals were awarded for works of art inspired by sport. The five categories included architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture.

3. Why do Olympians bite their medals?
Winning athletes are often photographed biting their medals. This is usually at the photographer’s request, and is based on the ancient practice of biting into gold to test its purity and authenticity.

2. Worth their weight in gold
Swimmer Michael Phelps now holds the all-time medal record for gold medals. The record for most gold medals held by a woman belongs to Larisa Latynina, a former Soviet gymnast, with nine.

1. Olympic gold medals aren’t really gold
The last series of medals made of solid gold were awarded at the 1912 Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm. Traditionally, Olympic gold medals are required to be made from at least 92.5 percent silver, and must contain a minimum of 6 grams of gold.
Olympic Games—History & Numismatics is currently on exhibit at the Money Museum at 818 North Cascade Avenue in Colorado Springs. The museum is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.  Admission is $5; $4 for seniors, military and students; kids twelve and under are free. Find more information at money.org/money-museum or 719-632- 2646.

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