Countries around the world are winning gold, silver, and bronze medals at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. We know what the medals mean: accomplishment, hard work, love of country. But have you ever thought about the medals themselves?
The original Games in ancient Greece were played solely for honor; the winners received wreaths of olive leaves from a sacred tree to mark their accomplishment. When the Games were revived in 1896, the winners in each event received a silver medal, with second place receiving bronze. During the 1900 games, cups were usually given out instead of medals. For the next few Games, smaller medals of solid gold were awarded. The use of gold was phased out when WWI broke out; the last solid gold medals were given during the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.
While the host country for the Games is responsible for minting the medals, there are some international standards. Olympic gold medals must be at least 92.5% silver, and contain no less than 6 grams of gold (usually in the plating on the medal.) All medals must be a minimum of 3mm thick and 60mm in diameter.
A design by Italian artist Giuseppe Cassioli dominated the obverse of the medals for the Summer Olympics for four decades, from 1928 through 1968. Cassioli’s design showed the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, against the Roman Coliseum, with text indicating the host city of that year’s Games. The back of the medal featured a basic design of Nike saluting an Olympic winner. A revised design was commissioned in 2004 when it was noted that Cassioli’s design featured a Roman landmark for Greek-inspired games. From 1972 through 2000, Cassioli’s design remained on the obverse, while the host city created a unique design for the reverse. The Winter Games, of more recent origin, have had more variety in the medal designs.
But what goes into actually creating the medals that are awarded to the athletes? The London Olympic Games released a video to show the whole process.
Have fun watching the Olympics in Rio!