Why do athletes win a Bronze medal and not Copper?
So I was watching one of my favorite YouTube shows and their latest episode was talking about Olympic medals. It got me wondering something that I haven’t thought about before. Namely, why is it Gold, Silver, and Bronze? Why not Gold, Silver, and Copper? So I wanted to take you through a journey with me. Unfortunately this one might not be as exciting as the average scan and perhaps you’ll quickly know the answer and actually have known a better way to find it!
Whenever I think about something “Why is X the case?” I try to store it in my brain box, if I am within spitting distance of a PC that I own I’ll add a line to notes and will come back to that later to have good filler for website updates (something I have not done recently).
Once I sit down and decide to start picking apart the problem I set out to the worlds largest database of information, Google. The beauty of Google is that you can generally ask a question and get back relevant answers. The rule of thumb is that every question you are bound to ask has been asked by someone else somewhere, they might not have been asking it for the same reason and they might not even have known what to do with the answer. Most, if not all, of us are curious creatures who want to know, to enrich our minds and to give depth to our lives.
So I googled “Why is it a Bronze medal and not a Copper one?” Unfortunately after scrolling around the pages I got back were not able to answer my question! Oh horror indeed. What I did learn is that this triplet of Medals is a rather recent system (last century or so) and that gold medals are actually almost entirely silver. Silver medals are as well (obviously) and bronze has got some tin and zinc filler. The latter medal is apparently worth about 3 dollars, so jokes on you for being the world’s third best athlete in your field I guess.
So why then? What is it about copper that makes it so much less appealing than bronze? Bronze is between 90-10 and 57-43 in terms of copper to other alloys, so my first assumption of copper being too expensive was thrown out the window. If we are already using copper commercially at 90% then a 100% medal the size of your palm is hardly going to bankrupt anybody. But what then?
Well what are the different features of Bronze versus Copper? Is this a case of Bronze being less likely to Oxidize than Copper? I know that copper turns a beautiful green color when it oxidizes. You know one of the most brilliant examples of this? I’m sure you do…
Oh yes, that hot tot right there is beautifully oxidized. If you’ve seen a building with a brilliant emerald green crust this is likely why. Either that or they’ve built their building out of Emerald, I also realize Emerald is quite a bit more deeply green but I want to use that word so I am! Don’t judge me!
I figured the fear was that your medal would turn a brilliant green and people would be like “Yo dawg, where you get a green medal?” But personally I’d be pretty happy with a nice oxidized copper medal.
So next I thought maybe its because Copper makes some peoples skin green! But unfortunately a quick Google has returned that Bronze can as well leave you with a nice hulky hue.
Could it be a matter of Copper being too beautiful? As I mentioned earlier a bronze medal is worth about 3 dollars USD. A pure copper medal might not necessarily be a lot more than this but it could possible be too beautiful for the “third place” contestants.
Imagine that kind of shimmer on the neck of the third place winner. That might be a little too distracting, a little too rewarding. But that possible answer is just guesswork and quite likely to be wrong. What bothers me about it and why I’m bringing it up is that the symbolism would have been brilliant! They are literally all in the same row on the period table.
Now I emailed the Periodic Table of Videos and then immediately thought about something they had noted. Pure gold cannot be used for medals because it would be so soft that dropping it could damage it. But seeing as the Silver and Gold Medals have filler in them there is no reason the Bronze couldn’t have been a core of a harder medal and then plated just like Gold Medals with a brilliant copper finish.
I’m sure its something simple and stupid that I’m overlooking and once I know I will feel silly, but at least then my brain will feel like its won a gold medal. I’ll trade it in and get a copper one >_>.