Friday, July 6, 2012

Olympics: A brief history of Olympic Medals

Olympic gold medals are not gold but made of gold-plated silver. From the first Olympic Games in 1896 the size and weight have varied considerably. At the first Modern Games the winners were given a silver medal and an olive branch. The runners-up received a bronze medal and a laurel branch. The first medals were designed by French sculptor Jules-Clément Chaplain and depicted Zeus holding Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, on the obverse (front) and the Acropolis on the reverse. Then after the task of designing and minting medals was given to the host city.

In 1900, most winners received cups or trophies instead of medals. For those that did the medals were not circular and designed by Frédérique Vernon. The obverse had the winged goddess holding laurel branches with Paris in the background. On the reverse was a victorious athlete holding a laurel branch and the Acropolis in the background.

Four years later gold, silver, and bronze were introduced at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri . The obverse had Nike holding a laurel crown and a palm leaf and on the reverse was an athlete holding a laurel crown and the Greek temple in the background. The medal was design by Dieges & Clust.

In 1908 Bertram Mackennal designed a medal with an obverse with an athlete receiving a laurel crown from two female figures. On the Saint George was atop a horse. The event name and winner was etched on the edge of the medal.

In 1912 the obverse was an athlete receiving a laurel crown from two female figures, and on the reverse was a herald opening the Games with a statue of Pehr Henrik Ling behind him. The former was designed by Bertram Mackennal (obverse) and the latter Erik Lindberg (reverse).

In 1920 Josué Dupon designed a medal with an athlete holding a laurel crown and a palm leaf and on the reverse was a statue of Silvius Brabo. The edge had the name, event, team, "Antwerp", and the date.

The 1924 medals had an athlete helping another to stand and on the reverse was harp and various items of sports equipment. The medal was designed by André Rivaud.

In 1928 Giuseppe Cassioli won a competition to design the Summer Games medal and featured an image of Nike, holding a palm in her left hand and a winners crown in her right, on the obverse side 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.

This was called the Trionfo and the reverse featured a crowd of people carrying a triumphant athlete. Cassioli's Trionfo obverse design continued until the 1992 Summer Olympics.

In 1972 at the Munich Olympics a different design appeared on the reverse side of the medal, and featured the mythological twins Castor and Pollux. twin sons of Zeus and Leda. On the edge was the winner's name and sport. Since this time each host city has been given the freedom of the design of the reverse, subject to IOC giving final approval. The Nike motif remained but other aspects changed. The trend ended in 2004 with Wojciech Pietranik’s design which featured Nike flying into the Panathenic stadium.

Prior to 1932 all the medals were awarded at the closing ceremony with the athletes wearing evening dress. In 1932 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. In the 2004 Summer Olympics competitors on the podium also received an olive wreath crown.

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