Friday, August 08, 2008

Gold Medals at the Olympics

With all the attention right now on the Beijing Olympics some have asked what the Olympic gold medals are made of and who makes them.

The Olympic Medals are a symbol of the utmost achievement in sport and of course this is represented by none other than Olympic Gold Medals.

According to legend, the ancient Olympic Games were founded by Heracles, one of the sons of Zeus. And the first Olympic Games, for which we still have written records, were held in 776 BC. At this Olympic Games, a naked runner by the name of Coroebus, a cook from Elis, won the sole event at the Olympics. The stade (from which the word Stadium comes) - a run of 192 meters or 210 yards. This made Coroebus the very first Olympic champion in history.

Medals were first introduced in 1896. Winners received a silver medal, the second place received a bronze medal, the third none at all. Then, in 1900, most winners just received cups or trophies instead of medals.

The IOC has since retroactively assigned gold, silver and bronze medals to the three best placed athletes in each event to fit in with more recent traditions.

Most gold medals are actually gold-plated with notable exceptions, made of solid gold, being the Lorentz Medal, the United States Congressional Gold Medal of Honor and the Nobel Prize medal. The last Olympic gold medals that were made entirely out of gold were awarded in 1912.

The Olympic medals are designed especially for each individual Olympic Games by the host city's organizing committee. Each medal must be at least three millimeters thick and 60 millimeters in diameter. Also, the gold and silver Olympic medals must be made out of 92.5 percent silver, with the gold medal covered in six grams of gold.

The concept of the sequence of medals being gold, silver and bronze for the first three places dates from the 1904 games and has since been adopted by many other sporting events.

Minting of the medals is always the responsibility of the host city.

From 1928-1968 the design has always been the same. The obverse showed a generic design by Florentine artist Giuseppe Cassioli with text giving the host city and the reverse showed another generic design of an Olympic champion.

From 1972-2000, Cassioli's design, sometimes slightly changed remained on the obverse but now with a custom design by the host city on the reverse. Note that Cassioli's design showed a Roman amphitheater for what were originally Greek games and a new obverse design was commissioned for the Athens 2004 Games. Winter Olympics medals have been of more varied design. The silver and bronze medals have always borne the same designs.

So over the coming weeks we will watch with wonder as the athletics of the day perform their very best in order to obtain that most treasured of possessions, An Olympic Gold Medal.

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