Published: 20 Feb 2018

Gold in sport

Gold & its association with sports

Going for gold - how often have we heard that phrase, or variations of it, used in relation to sport? Athletes, sportsmen and women talk about it all the time. Headlines scream it off from the pages of daily newspapers. Gold in sport has, quite simply, become synonymous with victory.

Most sports reward achievement according to the Olympic medals system - gold for the winner, silver for second spot and bronze for third spot. Others that don’t, like Wimbledon for instance, or the Formula One British Grand Prix, hand winner’s golden trophies. These aren’t solid gold, even Olympic medals aren’t solid gold, but they’re gilded and made to look like gold, so the significance remains.

But it wasn’t always thus. Gold wasn’t always the measure of achievement, not even at the Olympics. At the Ancient Games, only the winner was recognised and he was awarded an olive wreath. In 1896, the first modern Olympic Games, the winner was given a silver medal, the second-placed finisher a copper one while the third-placed competitor went home empty-handed. Gold, apparently, was too precious a metal to be used.

The custom of awarding gold, silver and bronze in sequence for the first three places dates back to the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri in the United States. Since then, the practice has continued and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has retroactively assigned gold, silver and bronze medals to the three top placed athletes in each event of the Games. The last Olympic Games where medals were made entirely of gold was in 1912.

The International Olympic Committee stipulates that each gold medal must have a minimum silver content of 92.5% and at least six grams of gold. Consistent with the London 2012 Games, copper is again being used as an ingredient. Half of the plastic in the ribbons, which will position the medals around athletes’ necks, comes from recycled bottles.