Olympics 2016: what’s a gold medal worth?

Why Jessica Ennis-Hill’s gold at London 2012 was worth almost four times as much as Denise Lewis’ at Sydney 2000.

Gold rings
Source: Bloomberg

When Olympic winners take their places on the podium, the value of the metal in gold medals might not be the first thing on their mind. But changing commodity prices, forex rates and interest rates have all resulted in a medal won at one Olympics being worth a vastly different amount four years down the line.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) stipulates that a gold medal must contain six grams of gold plating around a silver base. The amount of silver in a medal can fluctuate, so for our purposes we can look simply at the value of the six grams of gold in each medal.

When Denise Lewis collected her gold medal in the women’s heptathlon in Sydney 2000, she was receiving $52.8, or £36 (at 2000 exchange rates), worth of gold. Jessica Ennis-Hill’s gold at London 2012 in the same event, meanwhile, was worth $312.8, or £199.6 (2012 exchange rates). Even taking inflation into account, the gold in Mrs Ennis-Hill’s medal was worth 389% more in sterling than the gold in Ms Lewis’.

It doesn’t end there though, as many other athletes have seen the value of their medals change significantly over the course of their careers.

Swimmer Michael Phelps, for instance, is heading to Rio 2016 hoping to win gold for a fourth consecutive Olympics. The 18 gold medals he currently has have a collective value of $4,566. He could be forgiven for trying a little less hard in Rio, however, as the value of the gold in a medal has dropped almost $60 in the four years since the last Olympics.

Rower Sir Steve Redgrave won gold at five consecutive Olympics. He won his last in Sydney in 2000, and at that point, his gold medals had a value of £180.2. Thanks to sterling’s recent weakening against the dollar – and huge leaps in the value of bullion – his medal collection would now be worth £945. As uncertainty becomes increasingly prevalent in 2016 following the UK’s vote to ‘Brexit’ the EU, he might want to consider holding onto his gold medals for a little longer.

Triple jumper Jonathan Edwards, who still holds the men’s world record in this discipline, also competed at his last Olympics in Sydney. This time he took the gold, having lost out to Kenny Harrison at the Atlanta 1996 games, despite being the world record holder at the time. His failure to win four years earlier cost him more than a sleepless night, too, as his gold was worth over a third less in 2000 than it would’ve been in 1996.

In contrast to Mr Edwards’ poor timing, Usain Bolt can reflect on a successful career on the commodity markets as well as the track. After missing out on a gold medal worth $77.8 (or 4773 Jamaican dollars) in 2004, his three gold medals at Beijing 2008 were worth an impressive $159.1 (JMD11,447) each. His three medals at London 2012, meanwhile, were worth $312.78. At JMD27,927, that is a staggering 485% increase.

This piece is part of our series on Rio 2016. For expert analysis, Brazilian trading opportunities, and more, take a look at our Rio 2016 page.

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