The Sports Archives – Olympic Medals

With the London Summer Olympics just around the corner it’s natural to begin thinking about some of the traditions and rituals associated with the event. Just recently the Olympic Flame was lit in Olympia, Greece, the birthplace of the games. Using the power of the Sun and a parabolic mirror the flame was lit and then was passed onto the Olympic Torch which will now make its way to London via numerous torch bearers in time for the opening ceremony on the 27th of July.

2000 Olympic First Medals

Ancient Medals

At the original Olympic Games, long before their modern-day revival, the prize awarded to the top performing athlete was far from a gold medal. In fact the prize had no monetary value but was purely symbolic. An Olive branch was given to only the winning Olympian, the branch was woven into wreath crown. The symbolic nature of this prize stems from the fact that the Olive branch was taken from a sacred tree located in Olympia near the temple of Zeus. Being given a wreath with direct association to your god must have been quite an honor. To this day Olympians compete not only to be the best, and for their countries, but also for the honor of competing at the games regardless of where they place.

Modern Games

The modern Olympics really took shape with the formation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894 and the first games were soon scheduled in for 1896 in Athens. Athens had hosted a number of Olympic events in the years running up to 1896 but these were for Greek and Ottoman Empire athletes. They did however spark the creation of the IOC by Baron Pierre de Coubertin which led to the modern international games.

Modern Medals

The last time that an entirely gold medal was awarded to a winning athlete was way back in 1912 in Sweden. Since this time the gold medal has actually consisted of a silver medal covered in a layer of gold. There are strict guidelines set out by the IOC regarding the construction and presentation of the medals. This is a result of the host nation having the responsibility of manufacturing the medals to be used at the respective games, a tradition that started in 1900 when the games were hosted in Paris and the medal was produced by the Paris mint.

As mentioned, the gold medal is not entirely gold, at the same time it’s hardly gold costume jewellery either. The gold medal must be constructed of 550 grams of high-grade silver and be coated with pure gold. So the medal is still packed full of precious metals, and as such has an intrinsic monetary value. The monetary value of a medal is obviously not the motivation for winning one for an athlete. Of course there would be far easier ways to earn that kind of money than winning an Olympic event!

The silver medal, awarded for 2nd place, is exactly the same in build as the gold medal except of course that it doesn’t have the pure gold outer layer. As a result the monetary value of a silver medal is roughly half that of a gold medal. It was not until 1904 that the modern hierarchy of gold, silver, and bronze came into use. Before this time the winner would actually receive a silver medal and an olive branch and the runner-up a bronze medal and a laurel branch.

London 2012 Olympic Medals

2012 London Olympics LogoThe medals for the upcoming London Summer Olympic games are set to be the largest medals awarded at an Olympic games to date. The design was completed by artist David Watkins and is being produced by the Royal Mint, now located in South Wales. The front depicts the god Nike flying into the Panathenaic stadium in Greece with the Acropolis and Parthenon in the background. This is a generic design started in 2004 when the games returned to Athens. The reverse of the London medal comprises of geometric lines, a ribbon flowing in the shape of the Thames, and the London 2012 logo.


If a real Olympic Medal is just out of reach this time around, then grab some gold costume jewellery, perfect for Olympic celebrations at home.

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