Medals have wildly different perks in different nations
Any South Korean athlete who wins an Olympic medal, for example, becomes exempt from the country’s mandatory two-year military service for males aged 18 to 35.
Gold medals can still be valuable though
Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko auctioned his gold medal for a children’s charity in 1996. A buyer purchased it for $1 million—then immediately returned the medal out of respect to Klitschko and his family.
The strangest material to become an Olympic medal?
Probably a meteorite. Ten gold medals in the 2014 Sochi Games contained pieces of the massive meteor that exploded over Russia in February, 2013.
Ireland’s first Olympic medal was for painting
Jack Butler Yeats—brother of poet W.B. Yeats—won a silver medal for his oil canvas, The Liffy Swim, in 1924. He was vanquished by a Luxembourgian artist who submitted two paintings of rugby, which hardly seems fair.
Gold, silver, and bronze have a hidden meaning
Gold, silver, and bronze medals represent three of the five Ages of Man in Greek mythology. The Golden Age was a time when man and gods lived in harmony. The Silver Age saw man stray from piety, and the Bronze Age marks a period of war and violence. Supposedly we’re in the Iron Age now, but that’s all Greek to me.
For 76 years, Olympic medals were emblazoned with a big error
Beginning in 1928, the front of every gold, silver, and bronze medal showed an image of the Roman Colosseum, despite the Olympic games’ Greek roots. This blunder was finally called to attention in 2004, when it was replaced with Athens' Panathenaic Stadium.
The Rio 2016 medals will have unusual origins
Per the Games’ official website, “About 30 percent of the silver used in the new medals will be recycled waste from leftover mirrors, solder and X-ray plates. Bronze medals will be made with copper waste from the national mint.” Even the ribbons holding the medals will be woven with recycled plastic from old bottles.