The gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics are just 1.2% gold

·2 min read
The gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics are just 1.2% gold
Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young pose with their gold medals at Tokyo 2020.
US basketball players Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young with their gold medals at Tokyo 2020. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Very few athletic achievements are greater than winning an Olympic gold medal, but the prizes awarded to these champs aren't worth their weight in gold.

In fact, only 1.2% of a gold medal handed out at the Tokyo Olympics is actual gold. The other 98.8% is silver, according to Compound Interest, a science communication website that examines chemical compounds.

That means each 1.2-pound gold medal contains just 6.7 grams of gold.

During the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the gold medals also contained about 6 grams of gold, CNN reported, though the medals themselves were about one-tenth of a pound lighter than those given out in Tokyo. (Typically, gold medals have just a thin layer of gold surrounded a silver base.)

Only the silver medals at this year's games, which weigh the same as their gold counterparts, are made entirely from their namesake. The lighter, 1-pound bronze medals - bronze is a mixture of copper and tin - are 95% copper and 5% zinc.

The medals were made from recycled cell phones

Olympic gold medals made from recycled cell phones
The gold, silver, and bronze in this year's Olympic medals were derived from recycled electronic devices like cell phones. Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images, Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Japan produced all 5,000 gold, silver, and bronze medals for the Tokyo games using recycled electronic devices like cell phones donated by people all over the country.

Over a span of two years, the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project collected 78,985 tons of electronic devices - including 6.21 million cell phones - from across Japan. The devices were heated to melt and extract the metal inside, which yielded 70.5 pounds (32 kilograms) of gold, 7,716 pounds (3,500 kg) of silver, and 4,850 pounds (2,200 kg) of bronze.

It takes up to 40 cell phones to salvage one gram of gold, Compound Interest reported.

tokyo 2020 olympic medals
Medals from Tokyo 2020. Courtesy of Tokyo 2020

This is the first time in Olympic history that medals have been entirely made of recycled metal, though 30% of the silver medals from the 2016 Olympics came from recycled silver from car parts and mirrors.

Talia Lakritz contributed to this story.

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