Neuner Gold Medal Pursuit 2010

A gold medal awarded at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.

An Olympic medal is awarded to successful competitors at one of the Olympic Games. There are three classes of medal: gold, awarded to the winner; silver, awarded to the runner-up; and bronze, awarded to the third-place competitor. In addition to generally supporting their Olympic athletes, some countries provide sums of money and gifts to medal winners, depending on the classes and number of medals won.

Medal designs have varied considerably since the first Olympic Games in 1896, particularly in size and weight. A standard obverse (front) design of the medals for the Summer Olympic Games began in 1928 and remained for many years, until its replacement at the 2004 Games as the result of controversy surrounding the use of the Roman Colosseum rather than a building representing the Games' Greek roots. The medals of the Winter Olympic Games never had a common design, but regularly feature snowflakes.

Introduction and early historyEdit

The olive wreath was the prize for the winner at the Ancient Olympic Games. It was an olive branch, of the wild-olive tree that grew at Olympia,[1] intertwined to form a circle or a horse-shoe. According to Pausanias it was introduced by Heracles as a prize for the winner of the running race to honour Zeus.[2]

When the modern Olympic Games began in 1896 medals started to be given to successful competitors. However, gold medals were not awarded at the inaugural Olympics in 1896 in Athens, Greece.[3] The winners were instead given a silver medal and an olive branch,[4] while runners-up received a laurel branch and a copper or bronze medal.[5] In 1900, most winners received cups or trophies instead of medals.

The custom of the sequence of gold, silver, and bronze for the first three places dates from the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri in the United States. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has retroactively assigned gold, silver and bronze medals to the three best placed athletes in each event of the 1896 and 1900 Games.[6][7] If there is a tie for any of the top three places all competitors are entitled to receive the appropriate medal according to IOC rules.[8]

Medals are not the only awards given to competitors; every athlete placed first to eighth receives an Olympic diploma. Also, at the main host stadium, the names of all medal winners are written onto a wall.[8]

Production and designEdit

MST21 DSC0873

A collection of medals won by Polish athletes, at the Museum of Sport and Tourism in Warsaw

The IOC dictates the physical properties of the medals and has the final decision about the finished design. Specifications for the medals are developed along with the National Olympic Committee (NOC) hosting the Games, though the IOC has brought in some set rules:[8][9]

  • Recipients: The top three competitors receive medals
  • Shape: Usually circular, featuring an attachment for a chain or ribbon
  • Diameter: A minimum of 60 mm
  • Thickness: A minimum of 3 mm
  • Material:
    • First place: It is composed of silver (at least .925 grade) covered with 6 grams of pure gold.
    • Second place: It has the same composition as the first place medal without the gilding. [10]
    • Third place: It is mostly copper with some tin and zinc (worth approximately $3).[11]
  • Event details: The sport for which the medal has been awarded should be written on the medal

The first Olympic medals in 1896 were designed by French sculptor Jules-Clément Chaplain and depicted Zeus holding Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, on the obverse and the Acropolis on the reverse.[3] They were made by the Paris Mint who also made the medals for the 1900 Olympic Games hosted by Paris. This started the tradition of giving the responsibility of minting the medals to the host city. For the next few Olympiads the host was also given the ability to choose the medal design.


In 1923 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) launched a competition for sculptors to design the medals for the Summer Olympic Games. Giuseppe Cassioli's Trionfo design was chosen as the winner in 1928.[3][12][13] The obverse brought back Nike but this time as the main focus, holding a winner's crown and palm with a depiction of the Colosseum in the background.[12] In the top right section of the medal a space was left for the name of the Olympic host and the Games numeral. The reverse features a crowd of people carrying a triumphant athlete. His winning design was first presented at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. The competition saw this design used for 40 years until the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich became the first Games with a different design for the reverse side of the medal.[3]

Cassioli's design continued to inspire the obverse of the medal for many more years, though recreated each time, with the Olympic host and numeral updated. The obverse remained true to the Trionfo design until the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, where the IOC allowed an updated version to be created. For the next few events they mandated the use of the Nike motif but allowed other aspects to change.[9] The trend ended in 2004 due to the negative publicity in reaction to the design of medal for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Wojciech Pietranik, the designer of the medal, along with the organisers of the Games were criticised by the Greek press for using the Roman Colosseum rather than the Greek Parthenon.[3][14] Pietranik's original design had featured the Sydney Opera House on the obverse but the IOC concluded that it should be replaced by the Colosseum and a chariot rider. He made the changes and, despite the criticism, the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games decided to continue with the design as it was, noting that there was insufficient time to complete another version and that it would be too costly.[9] The error had remained for 76 years until a new style depicting the Panathinaiko Stadium was introduced at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.[15] This new obverse design would go on to be used at the 2008 and 2012 Games.

Custom reverse designsEdit

The German Olympic Committee, Nationales Olympisches Komitee für Deutschland, were the first Summer Games organisers to elect to change the reverse of the medal. The 1972 design was created by Gerhard Marcks, an artist from the Bauhaus, and features mythological twins Castor and Pollux.[16] Since then the Organising Committee of the host city has been given the freedom of the design of the reverse, with the IOC giving final approval.

Comparison between Summer and WinterEdit

The IOC has the final decision on the specifications of each design for all Olympic medals, including the Summer Games, Winter Games, and Paralympic Games. There has been a greater variety of design for the Winter Games; unlike with the Summer Games, the IOC never mandated one particular design. The medal at the inaugural 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France did not even feature the Olympic rings. Nike was featured on the medals of the 1932 and 1936 Games but has only appeared on one medal design since then. One regular motif is the use of the snowflake, while laurel leaves and crowns appear on several designs. The Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius features on four Winter Games medals but does not appear on any Summer Games medal.

For three events in a row, hosts of the Winter Games included different materials in the medals: glass (1992), sparagmite (1994), and lacquer (1998). It was not until the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China that a Summer Olympic host chose to use something different, in this case jade. While every Summer Olympic medal except for the 1900 Games has been circular, the shapes of the Winter Games have been considerably more varied. The Winter Games medals are also generally larger, thicker, and heavier than those for the Summer Games.

Individual design detailsEdit

Summer Olympic medal designsEdit

Details about the medals from each of the Summer Olympic Games:[16][17]

Games Host Details Designer(s) Mint Dia.
1896 Athens, Greece Obverse: Zeus holding Nike
Reverse: The Acropolis
Jules-Clément Chaplain Paris Mint 48 3.8 47 1896 Olympic medal
1900 Paris, France Obverse: Winged goddess holding laurel branches; Paris in the background
Reverse: A victorious athlete holding a laurel branch; the Acropolis in the background
Note: The only Olympic medal that is not circular
Frédérique Vernon Paris Mint 59 x 41 3.2 53
1904 St. Louis, Missouri Obverse: Nike holding a laurel crown and a palm leaf
Reverse: An athlete holding a laurel crown; Greek temple in the background
Dieges & Clust Dieges & Clust 37.8 3.5 21 Silver medal of 1904 Summer Olympics
1908 London, Great Britain Obverse: An athlete receiving a laurel crown from two female figures
Reverse: Saint George atop a horse
Edge: "Vaughton", event name and winner
Bertram Mackennal Vaughton & Sons 33 4.4 21
1912 Stockholm, Sweden Obverse: An athlete receiving a laurel crown from two female figures
Reverse: A herald opening the Games with a statue of Pehr Henrik Ling behind him
Bertram Mackennal (obverse)
Erik Lindberg (reverse)
C.C. Sporrong & Co 33.4 1.5 24
1920 Antwerp, Belgium Obverse: An athlete holding a laurel crown and a palm leaf
Reverse: Statue of Silvius Brabo
Edge: Name, event, team, "Antwerp", and the date
Josué Dupon Coosmans 59 4.4 79
1924 Paris, France Obverse: An athlete helping another to stand
Reverse: A harp and various items of sports equipment
André Rivaud Paris Mint 55 4.8 79
1928 Amsterdam, Netherlands Design: Trionfo
Note: This obverse design, sometimes recreated, remains until 2004, the reverse design remained until 1972
Giuseppe Cassioli Dutch State Mint 55 3 66
1932 Los Angeles, U.S. Design: Trionfo Giuseppe Cassioli Whitehead & Hoag 55.3 5.7 96
1936 Berlin, Germany Design: Trionfo
Giuseppe Cassioli B.H. Mayer 55 5 71
1948 London, Great Britain Design: Trionfo Giuseppe Cassioli John Pinches 51.4 5.1 60
1952 Helsinki, Finland Design: Trionfo
Edge: 916 M / Y6 (Factory Stamp)
Giuseppe Cassioli Kultakeskus Oy 51 4.8 46.5
1956 Melbourne, Australia Design: Trionfo Giuseppe Cassioli K.G. Luke 51 4.8 68
1960 Rome, Italy Design: Trionfo
Surround: A bronze laurel wreath and laurel leaf chain
Giuseppe Cassioli Artistice Fiorentini 68 6.5 211
1964 Tokyo, Japan Design: Trionfo Giuseppe Cassioli and Toshikaka Koshiba Japan Mint 60 7.5 62
1968 Mexico City, Mexico Design: Trionfo Giuseppe Cassioli 60 6 130
1972 Munich, Germany Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: Castor and Pollux, twin sons of Zeus and Leda
Edge: Winner's name and sport
Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse)
Gerhard Marcks (reverse)
Bavarian Mint 66 6.5 102
1976 Montreal, Canada Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: A stylised laurel crown and the Montreal Games logo
Edge: Name of the sport
Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse) Royal Canadian Mint 60 5.8 154
1980 Moscow, Russia Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: A stylised Olympic flame and the Moscow Games logo
Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse)
Ilya Postol (reverse)
Moscow Mint 60 6.8 125
1984 Los Angeles, U.S. Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse:An Olympic champion held aloft by a crowd
Note: The reverse returns to the Cassioli design
Giuseppe Cassioli Jostens, Inc 60 7.9 141
1988 Seoul, South Korea Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: An outline of a dove carrying a laurel branch and the Seoul Olympic logo
Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse) Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation 60 7 152
1992 Barcelona, Spain Obverse: Updated interpretation of Trionfo
Reverse: Barcelona Games logo
Xavier Corbero Royal Mint of Spain 70 9.8 231
1996 Atlanta, U.S. Obverse: Updated interpretation of Trionfo
Reverse: A stylised olive branch, the Atlanta Games logo, and "Centennial Olympic Games"
Edge: "Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games"
Malcolm Grear Designers Reed & Barton 70 5 181
2000 Sydney, Australia Obverse: Updated interpretation of Trionfo
Reverse: The Sydney Opera House, Olympic Flame, and Olympic rings
Edge: Event name
Wojciech Pietranik Royal Australian Mint 68 5 180
2004 Athens, Greece Obverse: Nike with Panathinaiko Stadium in the background
Reverse: The Olympic Flame, the opening lines of Pindar's Eighth Olympic Ode, and the Athens Games logo
Elena Votsi 60 5 135
2008 Beijing, China Obverse: Nike with Panathinaiko Stadium in the background
Reverse: a jade ring with the Beijing Games logo in the centre and the event details on the outer edge
Xiao Yong[18] China Banknote Printing and Minting Corporation 70 6 200
2012 London, United Kingdom Obverse: Nike with Panathinaiko Stadium in the background
Reverse: The River Thames and the London Games logo with angled lines in the background
David Watkins (designer) Royal Mint 85 7 375–400

Winter Olympic medal designsEdit

Details about the medals from each of the Winter Olympic Games:[3][19]

Games Host Details Designer(s) Mint[8] Diameter
1924 Chamonix, France Obverse: A skier holding skates and skis and the designer's name
Reverse: Written information about the Games
Template:Sortname Paris Mint Template:055 Template:04 Template:075
1928 St. Moritz, Switzerland Obverse: A skater surrounded by snowflakes
Reverse: Olive branches and host details
Template:Sortname Huguenin Frères Template:050.4 Template:03 Template:051
1932 Lake Placid, U.S. Obverse: Nike with the Adirondack Mountains in the background
Reverse: Laurel leaves and written host details
Shape: Circular but not with a straight edge
Robbins Company Template:055 Template:03 Template:051
1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany Obverse: Nike atop a horse-drawn chariot traversing an arch over winter sporting equipment
Reverse: Large Olympic rings
Template:Sortname Deschler & Sohn 100 Template:04 324
1948 St. Moritz, Switzerland Obverse: The Olympic torch with snowflakes in the background and the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius
Reverse: A snowflake and written host details
Template:Sortname Huguenin Frères Template:060.2 Template:03.8 103
1952 Oslo, Norway Obverse: The Olympic torch and the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius
Reverse: A pictogram of Oslo City Hall with three snowflakes and written host details
Template:Sortname and Template:Sortname Th. Marthinsen Template:070 Template:03 137.5
1956 Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy Obverse: An "ideal woman" and written host details
Reverse: A large snowflake with Pomagagnon in the background, the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, and further host details
Template:Sortname Lorioli Bros. Template:060.2 Template:03 120.5
1960 Squaw Valley, U.S. Obverse: The head of a male and female with host details written around them
Reverse: Large Olympic rings, the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, and the name of the sport
Template:Sortname Herff Jones Company Template:055.3 Template:04.3 Template:095
1964 Innsbruck, Austria Obverse: Torlauf Mountains, "Innsbruck 1964", and "Torlauf"
Reverse: The Olympic rings above the emblem of Innsbruck with host details around them
Template:Sortname (obverse)
Template:Sortname (reverse)
Austrian Mint Template:072 Template:04 110
1968 Grenoble, France Obverse: Three snowflakes and the red rose emblem of Grenoble surrounded by host details
Reverse: A stylised image of each sport
Template:Sortname Paris Mint Template:061 Template:03.3 124
1972 Sapporo, Japan Obverse: Pictogram of lines in the snow
Reverse: A snowflake, the sun, and the Olympic rings
Shape: Square with rounded, wavy lines
Template:Sortname (obverse)
Template:Sortname (reverse)
Mint Bureau of the Finance Ministry Template:057.3 x 61.3 Template:05 130
1976 Innsbruck, Austria Obverse: The Olympic rings above the emblem of Innsbruck with host details around them
Reverse: The Alps, Bergisel, and the Olympic flame
Template:Sortname (obverse)
Template:Sortname (reverse)
Austrian Mint Template:070 Template:05.4 164
1980 Lake Placid, U.S. Obverse: The Olympic torch held in front of the Adirondack Mountains
Reverse: A pine cone sprig and the Lake Placid logo
Tiffany & Co. Medallic Art Company Template:081 Template:06.1 205
1984 Sarajevo, Yugoslavia Obverse: Event logo with host details surrounding it
Reverse: An athletes head wearing a laurel crown
Shape: Circular but set in a large rounded rectangular shape
Template:Sortname Zlatara Majdanpek and Zavod za izradu novčanica 71.1 x 65.1 Template:03.1 164
1988 Calgary, Canada Obverse: Event logo with host details surrounding it
Reverse: Two people, one wearing a laurel and the other wearing a headdress made up of winter sports equipment
Template:Sortname Jostens Template:069 Template:05 193
1992 Albertville, France Obverse: Glass set into the metal, showing the Olympic rings in front of mountains
Reverse: Rear side of glass section
Template:Sortname René Lalique Template:092 Template:09.1 169
1994 Lillehammer, Norway Sparagmite partially covered in gold, one side showing the Olympic rings and host details, the other depicting the sport in which the medal was won and the Games emblem Template:Sortname Th. Marthinsen Template:080 Template:08.5 131
1998 Nagano, Japan Obverse: Partly lacquered, shows the Games emblem
Reverse: Mainly lacquer, containing the Games emblem over the Shinshu mountains
Template:Sortname Kiso Kurashi Craft Center Template:080 Template:08 261
2002 Salt Lake City, U.S. Obverse: An athlete carrying the Olympic torch steps out of flames
Reverse: Nike holding a victory leaf surrounded by event details
Shape: Irregular circle, like the rocks in Utah's rivers
Template:Sortname, Axiom Design O.C. Tanner Template:085 10 567
2006 Turin, Italy Obverse: Graphic elements of the Games
Reverse: Pictogram of the specific event
Shape: Circular with a hole representing a piazza
Template:Sortname Ottaviani 107 10 469
2010 Vancouver, Canada Obverse: An individually cropped section of a large Native American artwork (orca or raven), making each medal unique
Reverse: Emblem of the Games and event details
Shape: Circular but with undulations stopping it from being flat
Template:Sortname and Template:Sortname Royal Canadian Mint 100 Template:06 500–576


Thorpe gold medal

Jim Thorpe receives his medal at the 1912 Summer Olympics

The presentation of the medals and awards changed significantly until the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles brought in what has now become standard. Before then all the medals were awarded at the closing ceremony, with the athletes wearing evening dress for the first few Games. For the first time at the 1932 Games the competitors received their medals immediately after each event atop a podium.[8]

The 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy were the first in which the medals were placed around the neck of the athletes. The medals hung from a chain of laurel leaves, while they are now hung from a coloured ribbon.[16] When Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics the competitors on the podium also received an olive wreath crown.

See alsoEdit


  1. Theophrastus, Enquiry into Plants, IV.13.2: 'the wild-olive [kotinos] at Olympia, from which the wreaths for the games are made".
  2. Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.7.7
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 London 2012: Olympic medals timeline, BBC News. Accessed 27 July 2011.
  4. Template:Cite book
  5. “After this followed the distribution of the second prizes. The King presented each winner with a bronze medal and a laurel branch.” (English version) But: “Darauf treten die zweiten Sieger einzeln heran und empfangen aus den Händen des Königs einen Lorbeerzweig und eine kupferne Medaille” (German version) Pierre de Coubertin and others, The Olympic Games In 1 8 9 6, Athens , London, Leipzig 1897, p.114 and p. 115. In: The Olympic Games B.C. 776. — A. D. 1896. Part II
  6. Athens 1896–Medal Table. International Olympic Committee. Retrieved on 2008-05-05.
  7. Template:Cite book
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Report 268. International Olympic Committee. 31 January 2002. Accessed 11 September 2011.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 The fine art of victory, Powerhouse Museum. Accessed 11 September 2011.
  11. [1] Luxlist Accessed 11-11-2012
  12. 12.0 12.1 Winner's medal for the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Accessed 5 August 2011.
  13. Olympic Summer Games Medals, Athens Info Guide. Accessed 27 July 2011.
  14. Greek anger at Olympic medal design, The Telegraph. Accessed 5 August 2011.
  15. Athens' New Olympic Medal Design Win IOC's Nod, People Daily. Accessed 5 August 2011.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Olympic Summer Games Medals From Athens 1896 to Beijing 2008. International Olympic Committee. April 2010. Accessed 10 September 2011.
  17. Magnay, Jacquelin. London 2012 Olympics: medal designs unveiled. The Telegraph. 27 July 2011. Accessed 11 September 2011.
  18. Xiao Yong. icograda. Accessed 11 September 2011.
  19. Olympic Winter Games Medals from Chamonix 1924 to Vancouver 2010. International Olympic Committee. April 2011. Accessed 11 September 2011.