Metals and Jade in the 2008 Olympic Games


Already priceless to competitors, Olympic medals have become  remarkably expensive to produce.

The Shanghai Mint, which mints metal coins and precious metal badges in China, created the 2008 Olympic medals — all 6,000 of them. This year, those medals were nearly 200 percent more expensive to make than medals from the 2004 Olympic Games, increasing from a $469,000 total cost to $1.24 million. Rising commodity prices make those years of hard training even more fruitful for elite athletes.

“In Athens, each was worth $155; in Beijing, reaching the top step of the podium will earn a medal worth $393, an increase of more than 150 per cent, reflecting investors’ view that gold is a relatively safe haven during a period of economic uncertainty,” the Telegraph reported.

Mining company BHP Billiton, a sponsor of the Beijing Games, supplied the Olympic committee with gold, silver and copper from mines in Chile and Australia. Pure silver composes most gold and silver metals, which are 70mm in diameter and 6mm in thickness, but the champion’s metals must include a minimum six grams of 24-karat plated gold. In addition, the 2008 Olympics mark the first time in history that jade and metal have been blended to create Olympic medals. A new minting technique was created for the Kunlun jade to bond with the metals. “The key to the process lies in the inner layer of the medal metal and the groove of the jade ring,” the Chinese media explains. “A seal ring is put between the inner layer and the groove to join the metal and jade together.”

During production of the latest Olympic medals, “Each medal was weighed before being put into the electroplating bath. To better control time and achieve the right finish, medals for electroplating were batched together according to weight.”

BOCOG vice-president Jiang Xiaoyu says that this year’s medals result from hard work and enthusiasm across the country, noting that the medals “embody strong Chinese style and elegant art, and are a harmonious combination of the Chinese culture with the Olympic spirit.” So far, most of those gold medals are staying in China, but there’s still time for other countries to pull ahead. The U.S. has the highest overall medal count, and hopefully that pile grows. After all, we’re the only country with cyborgs from the future depending on gold for fuel. How can you beat that?

No matter who pulls ahead this year (although we hope it’s someone we adore, like Amy Yoder Begley!), the Olympic Games should instill pride and sportsmanship in every country that participates. Like the mixing of cultures under the multi-colored rings, the mixing of jade and metals in the Olympic medals creates a unique and meaningful experience.

–Amy Edwards

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