Rio Olympic Medals Proving Not So Sustainable

Kevin Synder's gold medal
This photo provided by Kevin Snyder show Kyle Snyder’s damaged gold metal from the 2016 Rio Olympics on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Maryland.

The candidate team that submitted Rio’s bid for the 2016 Olympics were praised for their emphasis on sustainability – how they would revitalize their down-and-out urban areas, clean up their polluted waters, and build needed public transportation systems. They even promised to use recycled metals to build the gold, silver and bronze Olympic and Paralympic medals.

Unfortunately, many of those promises to make 2016 the Sustainability Olympics have not been kept. And as for the medals from the Rio Olympics, well, they are proving to be not so sustainable.

As I wrote in an August 2016 post, the medals were formed with mercury-free gold, and recycled silver and bronze. Even the ribbons were produced from recycled plastic bottles. According to this article, the medal manufacturer employed 80 people to handcraft the medals, who spent 48 hours making each one.

Unfortunately, recipients of the medals have begun to understand that all that gold does not glitter. You can see American wrestler Kevin Snyder‘s gold medal in the picture, which has a commonly reported issue – flaking and discoloring of the medal’s varnish. Apparently when a medal is dropped or rubbed up against other objects, the surface has been known to flake, particularly the silver medals. It has also been reported that the cover of medals have fallen off, but I am yet to see photographic evidence of that.

A spokesman for Rio2016 has explained that, perhaps, the medals were built for Brazilian heat. “We’re seeing problems with the covering on between six or seven percent of the medals, and it seems to be to do with the difference in temperatures,” Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada said, according to this NBC Sports report.

The good thing is that the medal factory is back in business as the Rio2016 organizers are promising to replace the medals. But American Kerri Walsh-Jennings, who won bronze in beach volleyball to complement her three golds from previous Olympics, has grown attached to her flaking bronze medal.

“They’ve offered to replace them. I’m not sure if I want to swap it out,” Walsh-Jennings told The Associated Press, adding the reason was “100 per cent sentimental.”