Broke US spends millions to win almost worthless Olympic medals

You Won’t Believe What America Spends To Win Olympic Gold In These Sports

By Jason Notte
July 27, 2012

Team USA will pay a hefty price for its share of the gold, silver and bronze at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but even the medals table has a bargain bin.

The U.S. Olympic Committee shelled out more than $232 million in 2008 to help American athletes win 110 medals in Beijing — the site of the previous Summer Olympic Games. That’s $2.1 million per medal, but doesn’t include the cash kicked in by each sport’s governing body from sponsors, donors and special events. For example, USA Basketball took a little less than $1 million from the USOC to send the men’s and women’s teams to China four years ago, but spent $5.8 million overall on gold-medal efforts from LeBron James, Diana Taurasi and company.

That’s a lofty $2.9 million per medal, which is nearly five times what the U.S. modern pentathlon and badminton programs spent on their Olympic programs combined in 2008. The birdie smashers and five-sporters left empty handed, but any medal those programs took home would have been the steal of the games.

But the real question remains: How much can be spent on a single medal? The answer: Almost the sky’s the limit, it seems. We’re talking about many millions per medal.

To give Team USA fans some idea of which Olympic sports get the most — and least — medal for their money, we went over the financial statements and tax information of each Summer Olympic sport’s governing body to see how much they spent during the 2008 games. We divided that amount by the number of medals earned and came up with America’s five most resourceful Summer Olympics squads and its five biggest spenders. Here’s a hint: LeBron doesn’t appear in either list.

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5. USA Taekwondo
2008 Olympic medal tally: 1 silver, 2 bronze
2008 spending, based on audit: $2.78 million
Spending per medal: $926,666

The U.S. taekwondo team had a smaller budget than both its boxing ($5.25 million) and diving ($2.9 million) counterparts yet took home three times more medals in Beijing than those sports combined. Ain’t that a kick?

4. USA Fencing
2008 Olympic medal tally: 1 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze
2008 spending, based on audit: $5 million
Spending per medal: $833,333

The U.S. fencers spent less than half as much per medal as the U.S. gymnastic team ($1.94 million) and they wield swords. How isn’t this sport more popular?

3. USA Swimming
2008 Olympic medal tally: 12 gold, 9 silver, 10 bronze
2008 spending, based on audit: $21.4 million
Spending per medal: $690,322.58

It helps to have a mer-man like Michael Phelps win eight gold medals, but the U.S. team is stacked with talent to make even that high buy-in price seem like a bargain.

2. USA Shooting
2008 Olympic medal tally: 2 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze
2008 spending, based on audit: $4.13 million
Spending per medal: $688,333

Not only did those medals come relatively cheap, but the two gold medals were won by guys shooting skeet and trap. Consider all those childhood hours playing Nintendo’s Duck Hunt as early Olympic training.

1. USA Track and Field
2008 Olympic medal tally: 8 gold, 9 silver, 7 bronze
2008 spending, based on organization’s financial statement: $15.63 million
Spending per medal: $651,250

There are a lot more events, participants and chances to medal than in most other sports, but USA Track and Field spending was still efficient by U.S. standards. By comparison, there are only two U.S. Olympic sports that spent less in 2008 than the $651,250 the track and field team spent per medal: modern pentathlon ($305,816) and badminton ($301,280).

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5. USA Field Hockey
2008 Olympic medal tally: 0
2008 spending based on audit: $7.145 million
Spending per medal: N/A

This sport somehow manages to outspend all of USA Basketball ($5.8 million) and U.S. Rowing ($5.75 million) and nearly matches the total for USA Sailing ($7.81 million) but still can’t manage a medal? It didn’t even have to buy a boat or pay an NBA superstar’s minibar tab for that price.

4. USA Triathlon
2008 Olympic medal tally: 0
2008 spending based on audit: $8.18 million
Spending per medal: N/A

That’s $8 million on six competitors in a sport the United States has only won one medal in since 2000. For the price of USA Triathlon’s rubber-legged, secretion-heavy events of 2008, it could have paid the 2008 tab for U.S. archery ($1 million) weightlifting ($1.35 million), kayak and canoe ($1.4 million), synchronized swimming ($1.76 million) and judo ($2.21 million). At least judo would’ve given it a bronze medal for its money.

3. USA Equestrian
2008 Olympic medal tally: 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze
2008 spending, based on audit: $27.34 million
Spending per medal: $9.11 million

As Ann Romney can attest, equestrian sports aren’t cheap. Not only did USA Equestrian spend $2.5 million on drugs and medication for its animals in 2008, but the $3 million it spent on marketing was more than the U.S. diving team ($2.95 million) spent on its entire program that year.

2. USA Tennis
2008 Olympic medal tally: 1 gold, 1 bronze
2008 spending, based on tax documents: $46.23 million
Spending per medal: $23.12 million

That $23.11 million also covered the US Open, Davis Cup and other events in 2008, but the United States Tennis Association lumps it in with Olympic spending and chalks it all up to athletic development. That makes the Williams sisters’ gold medal in women’s doubles and the Bryan brothers’ bronze medal on the men’s side the second costliest pieces of hardware the U.S. took through customs from Beijing.

1. USA Soccer
2008 Olympic medal tally: 1 gold
2008 spending, based on tax documents: $44.1 million
Spending per medal: $44.1 million

The team sports are always a big gamble for one medal, but U.S. national soccer teams give that gold medal a whole lot more weight. USA soccer spent $1.68 million in 2008 just to help its teams qualify for the Olympics. That’s more than it spent for the entire 2008 Under-20 Women’s World Cup and isn’t even included in the $29.2 million it spends on national team practices, friendlies, facilities, salaries and other associated costs. For its trouble, the men’s squad didn’t even manage a win. The women took home the gold without captain Abby Wambach, but it would take more than 1,700 pounds of gold to equal the real value of the 7-ounce medallions the U.S. women’s team wore home from Beijing.

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  • London’s Olympic Gold Medal Worth The Most In The History Of The Games


    The two sides of the 2012 London Gold Medal. Photo credit: The official London 2012 website

    It is the ultimate reward for the greatest sporting event on the planet. More than 10,000 athletes will spend nearly three weeks competing for the chance to receive at least one of 302 Olympic Gold Medals that will be presented during the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games. The event officially starts Friday but some competitions have already begun.

    The “podium value” of the London gold medal is worth approximately $708, according to the World Gold Council, the market development organization of the gold industry. It is the highest value of any gold medal in the history of the modern games, primarily because of the record high prices for gold and silver.

    Each gold medal is made up of 92.5 percent silver and 1.34 percent gold, with the remainder copper. The International Olympic Committee stipulates that each gold medal must have six grams of gold (as well as 92.5 percent silver).

    The silver medal (which represents second place) is made up of 92.5 percent silver, with the remainder copper; and the bronze medal (for third place) is made up of 97 percent copper, 2.5 percent zinc and 0.5 percent tin.

    If the London 2012 Games medals were made of solid gold, it would cost nearly $40 million to make, according to the WGC. This is why the last time pure gold medals were presented was in 1912.

    The custom of awarding gold, silver and bronze medals began at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Mo. These metals represent the first three Ages of Man in Greek mythology: the Golden Age, when men lived among the gods, the Silver Age, where youth lasted a hundred years, and the Bronze Age, the era of heroes.

    Each medal is 85 mm in diameter and between 8-10 mm thick. The gold and silver medals weigh 412 grams (0.9 pounds) and the bronze medal weighs 357 grams (0.78 pounds). They are the biggest and heaviest summer Olympic medals ever made.

    Eight tons of precious ore for all the medals were supplied by mining giant Rio Tinto and was sourced at the Kennecott Utah Copper mine near Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as from the Oyu Tolgoi project in Mongolia, according to the official London 2012 website and the WGC. For the small amount of non-precious elements used in the bronze medals, the zinc was sourced from a mine in Australia as well as from recycled stock, while the tin originates from a mine in Cornwall, England.

    The metal was sent to Spain where it was turned into discs and then the medals were produced at the Royal Mint headquarters in Llantrisant, South Wales.

    Each medal takes 10 hours to make, according to the WGC. A 35mm disc is placed in a furnace and heated to 750 degrees Celsius (1,382 degrees Fahrenheit) to soften the medal. The metal disc is then struck 15 times under 900 tons of pressure.

    The medals were designed by British artist, David Watkins.

    The circular form of the Olympic medals is a metaphor for the world. The front of the medal always depicts the same imagery at the Summer Games—the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike, stepping out of the depiction of the Parthenon to arrive in the host city.

    The design for the reverse, according to the London 2012 website, features five symbolic elements:

    * The curved background implies a bowl similar to the design of an amphitheater.
    * The core emblem is an architectural expression, a metaphor for the modern city.
    * The grid suggests both a pulling together and a sense of outreach—an image of radiating energy that represents the athletes’ efforts.
    * The River Thames in the background is a symbol for London and also suggests a fluttering baroque ribbon, adding a sense of celebration.
    * The square is the final balancing motif of the design, opposing the overall circularity of the design, emphasizing its focus on the center and reinforcing the sense of “place” as in a map inset.

    For those in London, the medals can be seen at the British Museum throughout the Games.

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