History's most significant gold medals represent more -- and less -- than the pinnacle of athletic achievement.

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- A gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Olympics is valued in the hours, effort and money spent to get it, but any good jeweler or commodities broker knows its actual worth is just a bit lower than that.

The price of gold has soared from roughly $1,000 an ounce during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing to $1,584 an ounce by mid-July of this year. That's a pretty steep discount on 5 a.m. practices every day since age 5 or a national sports governing body's annual budget, but it's exactly what an Olympian or an average joe would get if they cashed it by means other than an auction or a sports memorabilia dealer.

The gold medal may be the pinnacle of athletic achievement, but beneath all the hyperbole it's just a lump of precious medal with a value dictated by the commodities market. Given the current price of gold, that value's often equivalent to that of a new car, even if it's a subcompact. We took a look at the Olympic gold medals awarded throughout history and, by weight and by the $1,584-an-ounce market value set in mid-July, came up with the 10 most valuable Olympic medals in history. While some may get you a Hyundai Accent or the down payment on a modest home, the biggest medals of the bunch put more than a pound of gold in a lucky athlete's pocket:

10. 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics
Weight of medal: 7.05 ounces
Current value: $11,167
China tricked out its medals with a bit of jade, which is a big reason the weight of its gold medals is the lowest on this list. Still, China won back about $570,000 of the estimated $14 billion to $40 billion it spent on the Olympics by topping the medals table with 51 golds in 2008. American swimmer Michael Phelps had the best haul of any athlete in Beijing, taking home 3.5 pounds of gold worth roughly $89,000 after winning eight gold medals.

9. 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics
Weight of medal: 7.23 ounces
Current value: $11,452
The Winter Olympics dominate this list, mostly because their medals are overwhelmingly larger and heavier than those of their summer counterparts. American fans remember these games for the U.S. hockey team's "Miracle On Ice" win over the Soviet Union, but even the team's gold-medal win against Finland couldn't push it ahead of the Soviets on the medals table. The U.S.S.R. took home 10 gold medals worth roughly $158,000 today.

8. 1960 Rome Summer Olympics
Weight of medal: 7.44 ounces
Current value: $11,785
The Trionfo design created by Giuseppe Cassioli had been used for every Summer Olympics medal since 1928, but this was perhaps the only year it made any sense. Cassioli put Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, on the medal's front holding a crown and palm. The only problem is that for 40 years, she held them while standing in front of the Roman Colosseum. This angered the Greeks to no end and resulted in the design getting the boot altogether in 2004. Why so touchy? Columns, gods, the Mediterranean, oil-laden foods ... it's all the same, right?

7. 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics
Weight of medal: 8.15 ounces
Current value: $12,910
This version updated Trionfo, but the key change was bulking up to a solid half-pound of gold. If Michael Jordan was going to throw a flag over his warm-ups because they didn't have a Nike(:NKE) logo on them, there's no way the Dream Team was going to stroll around Las Ramblas wearing anything less than a half-pounder around their necks. Jordan, Bird and Magic aside, the real gold rush of 1992 was made by the 12 former Soviet republics competing as the Unified Team. Even with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania going solo, the Unified Team took home 45 gold medals to the U.S. team's 37 and amassed about $581,000 worth of gold during its farewell tour.

6. 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics
Weight of medal: 9.2 ounces
Current value: $14,573
Sure, Tara Lipinski and the U.S. Women's Hockey team took home the gold from Nagano, but they were two (the team medals are counted as one) of the six total gold medals the U.S. won in 1998. The big dog in Japan that year was Germany, whose haul of 12 gold medals would be worth $175,000 today.

5. 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Olympics
Weight of medal: 11.4 ounces
Current value: $18,058
The winter and summer games in 1936 were less a celebration of international sportsmanship and fair play than they were a coming-out party for Adolph Hitler and his Nazi regime. Since Nazis and gold don't tend to have a positive connotation when lumped together in the same sentence, we'll sum up the gold medals from the 1936 Winter Games by saying only that they're about as modest as anyone who knows about the Third Reich may expect and they were awarded during an event where "Military Patrol" was a demonstration sport. P.S. Italy won the military patrol exhibition, which earned all the participants a lovely cash prize from dictator Benito Mussolini. The team captain, Enrico Silvestri, would later help overthrow Mussolini as a member of the Italian resistance during World War II.

4. 2012 London Summer Olympics
Weight of medal: 13.2 to 14.1 ounces
Current value: $20,908 to $22,334
This year's gold medals easily crack the Top 5 by forgoing frills such as glass and jade in exchange for a solid gold medallion marked with Nike and the Parthenon in front and London's Olympic logo and Thames River in the back. Considering it's the weightiest gold medal ever designed for the Summer Olympics, this may seem a bit overboard amid a global financial crisis. Considering the next three medals on the list were all struck within the past decade, though, the London Mint should be lauded for its austerity.

3. 2006 Turin Winter Olympics
Weight of medal: 16.5 ounces
Current value: $26,136
Germany's event-leading 11 medals weighed about as much as a small dog. That's about $287,000 in gold for Germany alone and another $235,000 for the U.S., which came in second with nine gold medals. Even with a hole cut into the medal to represent an Italian piazza, the Turin gold is one of the most formidable ever bestowed.

2. 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics
Weight of medal: 20 ounces
Current value: $31,680
Republican presidential candidate and former Bain Capital chief Mitt Romney was the head of Salt Lake's Olympic committee, which meant small measures were out. When Norway set the Winter Olympic record with 13 gold medals during the 2002 games, it took home more than 16 pounds and $412,000 worth of gold. The U.S. didn't do so shabbily either, as its 10 gold medals worth $317,000 were the most ever won in a Winter Olympics by a host country.

1. 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
Weight of medal: 17.6 to 20.3 ounces
Current value: $27,878 to $32,155
Salt Lake City still has Vancouver's small medals beat, but the 20.3-ounce big boys handed out in Canada two years ago are still the biggest and most ostentatious the Olympics have ever seen. Each medal was a cropped section of a larger piece of artwork, meaning no two medals were the same. That was a lot of work for the Royal Canadian Mint, but it ended up being a lot of fun for Team Canada. Its 14 gold medals were the most won by any country during the games.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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