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Olympic Medals Facts and History

General Knowledge | 9-12 yrs | Interactive, Learning Pod

Ancient Olympic Games

During the Ancient Olympic games, athletes were honoured with an olive wreath plucked from a sacred olive tree on Mt. Olympus, where the Greek God Zeus is said to have lived. This was a great honour, that was supplemented with gifts of olive oil and large sums of money. However since not all people who attend the modern Olympics have the same beliefs, the awards were standardised to medals of gold, silver and bronze for first, second and third place respectively.

History of Olympics Medals

The first Modern Olympics of 1896 saw athletes receiving a silver medal and an olive branch. The following year in Paris, athletes were mostly given trophies and cups. It wasn’t until the 1904 games in St. Louis, USA that the International Olympic Committee presented athletes with medals. They also sent these awards to people who had won the previous games.

The medals of the first and second Olympiads were produced by the Paris mint. However it was decided that the host city would bear the privilege of minting them. For the first few cycles of the Olympics, the host city was also given the liberty of creating their own designs for the medals.

Design of Olympic Medals –

The first Olympic medals featured depicted Zeus, the God of Gods, and Nike, the Greek Goddess of victory. In 1923, the IOC held a competition for sculptors to submit designs in order to standardise the look of the medals. The winning design was called trionfo (the Italian word for triumph) by Giuseppe Cassioli. It featured Nike holding an olive wreath and had space for the name of the host city, the year and the Roman number of the Olympiad it was presented at. Although medals now vary from one Olympiad to the next, the theme of Nike and other symbols that represent the Games’ Greek roots are featured prominently on the medals.

Olympic Medal Standards –

  • Olympic medals are circular with a way to attach them to a chain or ribbon.
  • They have a minimum diameter of 60mm and minimum thickness of 3mm.
  • Gold medals are actually silver medals coated in gold.
  • Silver medals are the same as the gold without the coating.
  • Bronze medals are the cheapest to produce and are made of copper and tin (the regular composition of bronze).

Project – 
Other than the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, what other Greek symbols have appeared on Modern Olympic games medals?