Broken mirrors to X-ray plates: Olympic gold not what it seems

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Making an Olympic gold medal
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Making an Olympic gold medal
The Rio 2016 Olympic medals are pictured at the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) takes out gold-plated Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A sculptress from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) works on the Rio 2016 Olympic medal at her computer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
Nelson Carneiro, craftsman from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) works on the Rio 2016 Olympic medal mold in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
Nelson Carneiro, craftsman from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) works on the Rio 2016 Olympic medal mold in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) puts plates to prepare the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) pours molten metal into a mold to prepare the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) cleans a Rio 2016 Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) cleans a Rio 2016 Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) takes out gold-plates Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) takes out gold-plated Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A machine works on a Rio 2016 Olympic medal at the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) checks a Rio 2016 Paralympic medal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) prepare Rio 2016 Olympic medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) prepares Rio 2016 Olympic medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
Workers from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) prepare Rio 2016 Paralympic medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
Workers from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) prepare the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) shows a Rio 2016 Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) prepares Rio 2016 Olympic medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
A worker from the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) prepares a Rio 2016 Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
The Rio 2016 gold Olympic medal is pictured at the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
The Rio 2016 silver Olympic medal is pictured at the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
The Rio 2016 bronze Olympic medal is pictured at the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
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RIO DE JANEIRO, June 28 (Reuters) - Ask athletes what goes into Olympic gold medals, and they will likely say sweat and years of training. For Brazil's National Mint the answer is simpler: recycled silver.

The 500-gram (17.6-ounce) Olympic gold medals that Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and other athletes will be competing for in Rio de Janeiro are nearly 99 percent silver. They contain just 1.2 percent gold, mostly used as plating.

SEE MORE: Visit AOL.com's new Rio 2016 experience

"It's a great honor and a great responsibility," said Victor Hugo Berbert, head of medal-making, as he showed Reuters around the mint in Rio de Janeiro.

Each of the 5,130 Olympic and Paralympic medals takes about 48 hours to make, said Berbert, who has an 80-strong team working shifts around the clock.

Brazil reveals Rio 2016 Olympic medals

The medals are the most sustainable in Olympic history. Much of the silver is recycled from old mirrors and X-ray plates. The gold is free of mercury, which is often used to separate gold from ore and can poison local ecosystems if not carefully disposed of.

Nike, the winged goddess of victory in Ancient Greece, is minted on one side below the five Olympic rings, while the discipline for which the medal has been won is engraved along its edge. The other side bears the Rio 2016 logo.

"It's a sense of great satisfaction that our work will be worn on the chests of athletes who have given everything to win," said Nelson Neto Carneiro, who has worked at the mint for over 40 years.

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