Gold may be first place in the Olympics but bronze has a myriad of award-winning properties. One of them is its abundance.
Before going into details, here’s a topic out of sheer curiosity: why does first place get a gold medal, second place silver, and third place bronze? It’s common in the Olympics but it’s been the benchmark for awarding in any competition for years. Science Minus Details (SMD) answers this question, which is perhaps as old as the Olympics itself.
The Periodic Table
You may be surprised to know that gold, silver, and copper (the base element for bronze) all fall under the same column group: Group 11. It’s also interesting to note that the Periodic Table is arranged in relation to abundance. The 1970 version of the table, made by Wm. F. Sheehan of the University of Santa Clara, depicts this instance.
As to why these metals were chosen, SMD explains:
“Elements in the same column generally have many similar properties. In this case, the most important property these metals share is the fact that they can be found naturally in their pure, “native” form. Most other metals are only found in their mineral form, and can only be obtained in pure form by producing them in crazy chemical reactions.”
The first Olympics were held in 776 BC. Science, at the time, was still uncertain how to extract the more valuable metals. As a matter of fact, SMD explains:
“While gold is almost always found in pure form, silver and copper are more commonly found bonded to other atoms such as sulfur and oxygen in mineral deposits.”
The arrangement of the medals is a matter of rarity. At 3.1×10-7 percent of the Earth’s crust, gold is one of the rarest metals on Earth, making it highly valuable.
If physical properties had their way, bronze would be the winner’s medal. Gold is too soft to stand alone and must form an alloy with other, stronger metals for durability. The same can be said for copper, which results in bronze, but it’s more abundant. Metal distributors such as Rotax Metals can manufacture bronze bars for an affordable cost.
If needed, both metals can be recycled. Copper recycling has been in practice as early as the age of bronze artillery, melting the cannons after a war to be remade into useful items. As only the physical form of copper and copper alloys change, not the chemical structure, remade bronze sheet metal still possesses the same properties as scrap copper.
(Source: “Why Are Olympic Medals Gold, Silver, and Bronze,” Science Minus Details)