Whoa, not so fast!
The modern Olympic Games began in 1896, but it wasn't until
the 1904 Summer Games in St. Louis that gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for first, second
and third place. (In 1896, winners were awarded a silver medal, and
second-place finishers received a copper medal. Prizes other than medals were
given in 1900.) These medal metals are rooted in Greek mythology's Ages of Man,
which are the stages of human existence on Earth. Hesiod, a Greek poet, wrote
about five eras of humanity: Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Heroic Age and
Iron Age. In the Golden Age, humans lived among the gods. In the Silver Age,
men lived for 100 years without growing up and were destroyed by Zeus because
of their impiety. In the Bronze Age, men were strong but violent, and they were
ultimately consumed by their warlike rage.
Greek mythology gave us our Olympic metals, but science
provided their value system. All three elements* — which you'll find in the
same column on the periodic table — can be found in their native form. Copper (chemical
symbol: Cu) is the lightest and most abundant of the three metals. Gold (Au) is
the heaviest and most rare. Silver (Ag) falls in between, in weight and
abundance. To the victor goes the scarcest, most valuable metal.
In short, if you finish first, you win gold. If you finish
second, you get silver. If you finish third, you take bronze.
So why did bronze
dash off in this USA Today article,
leaving silver in its wake? That
second silver is anything but
sterling. The third-to-last word in the paragraph should, like George Hamilton,
In a race to meet his deadline, I suppose, the writer
introduced an error. Next time, he should do something Usain Bolt, Justin
Gatlin and Andre De Grasse (note the capital D) rarely do: Take it slow.
* Bronze isn’t an element, but it is an alloy consisting
primarily of copper.