Apart from the various interesting traits concealed in every Olympic athlete, it may be equally interesting to know how the Olympic medals evolved from time immemorial to its present-day design and form. Well, let’s have a look at this piece of metal in terms of the people involved in its conceptualization, the symbolic meaning of its emblems and how it went through to its modern-day appearance.
A gold medal used to be made of gold as it was named. The last Olympic gold medals that were made entirely out of gold were awarded in 1912. The 1912 Olympics at Stockholm were known as the “Swedish Masterpiece” because they were so well organized. Avery Brundage, IOC president from 1952 to 1972, described these Games: “The efficiency and almost mathematical precision with which the events were handled and the formal correctness of the arrangements made a great impression.”
The Games also benefited from the use of electric timing devices and a public address system which were first used at these Olympic Games.
Concrete regulations for the development of medals were first established in 1978. According to the Olympic Charter, the prize medals must be at least 60 millimeters in diameter and three millimeters thick. The silver medals must be made of 92.5 percent pure silver, and the gold medal must be gilded with at least six grams of gold. The medals must bear the name of the sport concerned, attached in a removable fashion to a chain or ribbon, which may be hung around the neck of a competitor.
At the first modern Games in Athens in 1896, the medals were 50 millimeters in diameter, approximately two inches.
The 1900 Paris Games remains the only Olympics where no medals were awarded. Instead, winners were given valuable pieces of art.
In 1928, Italian artist Giuseppe Cassioli designed the medals for the Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Cassioli’s depiction of victory had several features: a robed Hellenic goddess holding a laurel wreath with the Athens Colosseum in the background, a horse drawn chariot, a Grecian urn and the Olympic rings. They appeared on both sides of the medals from 1928 to 1968, but since 1972 have been used on the front side only.
For the London 2012 Games, each medal is approximately 3.35 inches (85 mm) in diameter, about a quarter inch (.28 inches or 7 mm) in thickness, and weighs between 375-400 grams (13.2 to 14.1 ounces). These are the heaviest and largest medals in Olympic history.
British artist David Watkins was selected from a field of six finalists to design the medals for the London Olympics. The front side of the medals remains largely the same from Athens and Beijing with a design depicting the Greek roots of the Games as prescribed by the IOC. “Nike”, the Greek goddess of victory, appears as she has since 1928. Also depicted is the Panathinaiko Stadium, the main stadium of the 1896 Athens Games (and the home of archery and the marathon finish in 2004). The reverse side of the medals features the London 2012 logo on top of grid-like lines that emanate from the center. Running through the middle of these lines, is a fluttering ribbon, which symbolizes the River Thames cutting through London.
This summer (2012 games), Michael Phelps of the US swimming contingent has the potential to become the most decorated Olympian ever. He needs just three more to surpass former Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina for the most ever in Olympic history.
By all means an Olympic medal must be the most precious metal on earth, not really for its intrinsic value, but for the invaluable significance it brings to the athlete and his country.