August 20, 2008
As I write this, the U.S. leads in total medals (82) in the 2008 Summer Olympics. However, China has won more gold medals (45) than the U.S. (26) and Russia (13) combined, and more than the U.S. and Great Britain (26) combined.
The U.S. is expected to gain ground in the gold medal race in basketball, softball, volleyball, and track and field events. Whether it can win the race for gold will be decided by the end of the Olympics this weekend.
So beyond national and individual pride, which are priceless, what are the gold medals actually worth?
An article I read today, "Olympic medals more valuable than the metal," shed light on how much the metals are actually worth in terms of content, how much they might bring from buyers, and how much they cost to produce. It's amazing what you can learn when you surf the net.
For starters, the gold metals are made mostly of silver. Only six grams, or 0.19 ounce, is required to coat the medal.
An example of what Nadler meant was illustrated by the story of Polish swimmer Otylia Jedrzejczak, who auctioned off her gold medal from the Athens Olympics for $82,599 and donated the money to a Polish charity helping children with leukemia. The Polish Mint made her a replica of her medal. (Jedrzejczak won her gold in 2004 in the 200 meter butterfly; she took 4th in this race in Beijing.)
According to the article, assuming a gold medal contains 146 grams of silver and six grams of gold, the metals in each medal would be worth a bit more than $215 based on the August 18 closing prices.
Reportedly, producing 6,000 gold, silver, and bronze metals for the 2008 Olympics and the Paralympics has cost China millions of dollars.
Add the millions spent producing the medals to the billions China spends cranking out gold medal athletes and you have an obscene total.
" The Hidden Cost Behind China's Olympics," written by Hua Ming and published on epochtimes.com, asked the question: How much for a gold medal?
According to the article, after the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, the budget for the China Sports Bureau raised from three billion yuan ($USD 439 million) to five billion yuan ($732 million) per year. During the four years of preparation for the Athens Olympics, China spent 20 billion yuan ($3 billion), but the expense earned China 32 gold medals, making the cost for each gold medal nearly 700 million yuan ($102 million). Due to this high price for Olympic glory, China's gold medals have been called "The most expensive gold medals in the world."
The author reported that the 700 million yuan used to win one Olympic gold medal can build 3,500 elementary schools and rescue 350,000 children from poverty due to lack of education.
Gold medals are expensive, training gold-medal athletes is expensive, and building facilities and infrastructure to host an Olympics (China reportedly spent more than $40 billion doing this) is expensive. Is this money well spent? Could it be put to better use?
Don't get me wrong. I love the Olympics and tear up at all the 'agony and ecstasy' moments. (I almost cried when Lolo Jones stumbled over the hurdle.) And I'm just as proud as the next American to see the U.S. flag wave over the medal ceremonies to the strains of "The National Anthem." However, I can't help but think that spending the money to help the world's impoverished escape poverty would be a nobler endeavor than hosting an über-expensive sporting event.