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 history
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, 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.
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. The winners were instead given a silver medal and an olive branch, while runners-up received a laurel branch and a copper or bronze medal. 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. 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.
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.
Production and design
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:
- 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
- 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. The error had remained for 76 years until a new style depicting the Panathinaiko Stadium was introduced at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. This new obverse design would go on to be used at the 2008 and 2012 Games.
Custom reverse designs
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. 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 Winter
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 details
Summer Olympic medal designs
|1896||Athens, Greece|| Obverse: Zeus holding Nike|
Reverse: The Acropolis
|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
|Template:Sortname||Paris Mint||59 x 41||3.2||Template:053|
|1904||St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.|| 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||Template:021||100px|
|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
|Template:Sortname||Vaughton & Sons||33||4.4||Template:021|
|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
| Template:Sortname (obverse)|
Erik Lindberg (reverse)
|C.C. Sporrong & Co||33.4||1.5||Template:024|
|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
|1924||Paris, France|| Obverse: An athlete helping another to stand|
Reverse: A harp and various items of sports equipment
|1928||Amsterdam, Netherlands|| Design: Trionfo|
Note: This obverse design, sometimes recreated, remains until 2004, the reverse design remained until 1972
|Template:Sortname||Dutch State Mint||55||3||Template:066|
|1932||Los Angeles, U.S.||Design: Trionfo||Template:Sortname||Whitehead & Hoag||55.3||5.7||Template:096|
|1936||Berlin, Germany|| Design: Trionfo|
"B.H MAYER PFORZHEIM 990"
|1948||London, Great Britain||Design: Trionfo||Template:Sortname||John Pinches||51.4||5.1||Template:060|
|1952||Helsinki, Finland|| Design: Trionfo|
Edge: 916 M / Y6 (Factory Stamp)
|1956||Melbourne, Australia||Design: Trionfo||Template:Sortname||K.G. Luke||51||4.8||Template:068|
|1960||Rome, Italy|| Design: Trionfo|
Surround: A bronze laurel wreath and laurel leaf chain
|1964||Tokyo, Japan||Design: Trionfo||Template:Sortname and Template:Sortname||Japan Mint||60||7.5||Template:062|
|1968||Mexico City, Mexico||Design: Trionfo||Template:Sortname||60||6||130|
|1972||Munich, Germany|| Obverse: Trionfo|
Reverse: Castor and Pollux, twin sons of Zeus and Leda
Edge: Winner's name and sport
| Template:Sortname (obverse)|
|1976||Montreal, Canada|| Obverse: Trionfo|
Reverse: A stylised laurel crown and the Montreal Games logo
Edge: Name of the sport
|Template:Sortname (obverse)||Royal Canadian Mint||60||5.8||154|
|1980||Moscow, Russia|| Obverse: Trionfo|
Reverse: A stylised Olympic flame and the Moscow Games logo
| Template:Sortname (obverse)|
|1984||Los Angeles, U.S.|| Obverse: Trionfo|
Reverse:An Olympic champion held aloft by a crowd
Note: The reverse returns to the Cassioli design
|1988||Seoul, South Korea|| Obverse: Trionfo|
Reverse: An outline of a dove carrying a laurel branch and the Seoul Olympic logo
|Template:Sortname (obverse)||Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation||60||7||152|
|1992||Barcelona, Spain|| Obverse: Updated interpretation of Trionfo|
Reverse: Barcelona Games logo
|Template:Sortname||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
|Template:Sortname||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
|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
|Template:Sortname||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
Winter Olympic medal designs
|1924||Chamonix, France|| Obverse: A skier holding skates and skis and the designer's name|
Reverse: Written information about the Games
|1928||St. Moritz, Switzerland|| Obverse: A skater surrounded by snowflakes|
Reverse: Olive branches and host details
|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
|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
|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
|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)|
|1968||Grenoble, France|| Obverse: Three snowflakes and the red rose emblem of Grenoble surrounded by host details|
Reverse: A stylised image of each sport
|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)|
|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)|
|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
|1992||Albertville, France|| Obverse: Glass set into the metal, showing the Olympic rings in front of mountains|
Reverse: Rear side of glass section
|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
|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|
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.
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. When Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics the competitors on the podium also received an olive wreath crown.
- James Brendan Connolly, recipient of the first winner's medal
- ↑ Theophrastus, Enquiry into Plants, IV.13.2: 'the wild-olive [kotinos] at Olympia, from which the wreaths for the games are made".
- ↑ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.7.7
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 London 2012: Olympic medals timeline, BBC News. Accessed 27 July 2011.
- ↑ Template:Cite book
- ↑ “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
- ↑ Athens 1896–Medal Table. International Olympic Committee. Retrieved on 2008-05-05.
- ↑ Template:Cite book
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Report 268. International Olympic Committee. 31 January 2002. Accessed 11 September 2011.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 9.2 The fine art of victory, Powerhouse Museum. Accessed 11 September 2011.
- ↑ http://www.dendritics.com/scales/metal-calc.asp
- ↑  Luxlist Accessed 11-11-2012
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 Winner's medal for the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Olympic.org. Accessed 5 August 2011.
- ↑ Olympic Summer Games Medals, Athens Info Guide. Accessed 27 July 2011.
- ↑ Greek anger at Olympic medal design, The Telegraph. Accessed 5 August 2011.
- ↑ Athens' New Olympic Medal Design Win IOC's Nod, People Daily. Accessed 5 August 2011.
- ↑ 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.
- ↑ Magnay, Jacquelin. London 2012 Olympics: medal designs unveiled. The Telegraph. 27 July 2011. Accessed 11 September 2011.
- ↑ Xiao Yong. icograda. Accessed 11 September 2011.
- ↑ Olympic Winter Games Medals from Chamonix 1924 to Vancouver 2010. International Olympic Committee. April 2011. Accessed 11 September 2011.