Where Do Olympic Gold Medals Come From?

The 2012 Olympic games will begin on July 27 in London, awarding top athletes with medals for their achievements.

World-class athletes around the globe dream of having gold medals placed around their necks with their country’s national anthem blaring on the sound system in celebration of their hard work and dedication.

But are these golden prizes actually made exclusively of gold? And what are the silver and bronze medals given to all the second- and third-place finishers really made of?

JCK spoke to Kennecott Utah Copper, a division of Rio Tinto Mines, which provided the metal used to create the 4,700 medals awarded at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Advisor of communications Kyle Bennett explained: The gold medal is made of 92.5 percent silver, 1.34 percent gold, with the remaining percentage copper; silver medals are composed of 92.5 percent silver, and 7.5 percent copper; bronze medals consist of 97 percent copper, 2.5 percent zinc, and 0.5 percent tin.

The medals started out as iron ore in the Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah. The ore was extracted through a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week process of drilling, blasting, loading, hauling, crushing, and conveying. Valuable materials were then filtered during the concentration process. The smelting process—which entailed heating and melting the copper concentrates—removed the copper from the other elements in the ore. During the refining process, precious metals—including gold and silver—were separated from the copper.

Rio Tinto then shipped the gold, silver, and copper to the Cookson Precious Metals Group, where the metal was pressed into flat discs. The Royal Mint in London inscribed the medals with the official design of the Summer 2012 Olympics, which was designed by David Watkins, jeweller and professor of goldsmithing at London’s Royal College of Art.

The Olympic Committee’s pledge to be the most eco-friendly games to date played a key role in Rio Tinto’s involvement in producing the medals. “Our commitment to sustainable development is an integral part of how we do business and one of the reasons we are able to sponsor the greenest games ever,” Bennett says. “We can trace every gram of metal we produce back to the mine to ensure the metal meets our stringent standards.”

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