An Olympic medal is awarded to successful competitors at one of the Olympic Games. There are three classes of medal to be won: gold, silver, and bronze, awarded to first, second, and third place, respectively. The granting of awards is laid out in detail in the Olympic protocols.
|Awarded for||Given to successful competitors in various Olympic Sports|
|Presented by||International Olympic Committee|
Medal designs have varied considerably since the Games in 1896, particularly in the size of the medals for the Summer Olympic Games. The design selected for the 1928 Games remained for many years, until its replacement at the 2004 Games in Athens as the result of controversy surrounding the use of the Roman Colosseum rather than a building representing Greek roots. The medals of the Winter Olympic Games never had a common design, but regularly feature snowflakes and the event where the medal has been won.
Total medals won are used to rank competitor nations in medal tables, these may be compiled for a specific discipline, for a particular Games, or over all time. These totals always total event placements rather tory in a team event (such as relay race) equates to a single gold for such rankings even though each team member would receive a physical medal.
Introduction and early history
The olive wreath was the prize for the winner at the Ancient Olympic Games. It was an olive branch, off the wild-olive tree that grew at Olympia, intertwined to form a circle or a horse-shoe. According to Pausanias, it was introduced by Heracles as a prize for the winner of the running race to honour Zeus.
When the modern Olympic Games began in 1896 medals started to be given to successful olympian competitors. However, gold medals were not awarded at the inaugural Olympics in 1896 in Athens, Greece. The winners were instead given a silver medal and an olive branch, while runners-up received a laurel branch and a copper or bronze medal. In 1900, most winners received cups or trophies instead of medals.
The custom of the sequence of gold, silver, and bronze for the first three places dates from the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri in the United States. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has retroactively assigned gold, silver and bronze medals to the three best-placed athletes in each event of the 1896 and 1900 Games. If there is a tie for any of the top three places all competitors are entitled to receive the appropriate medal according to IOC rules. Some combat sports (such as boxing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling) award two bronze medals per competition, resulting in, overall, more bronze medals being awarded than the other colours.
Medals are not the only awards given to competitors; every athlete placed first to eighth receives an Olympic diploma. Also, at the main host stadium, the names of all medal winners are written onto a wall. Finally, as noted below, all athletes receive a participation medal and diploma.
Production and design
The IOC dictates the physical properties of the medals and has the final decision about the finished design. Specifications for the medals are developed along with the National Olympic Committee (NOC) hosting the Games, though the IOC has brought in some set rules:
- Recipients: The top three competitors receive medals
- Shape: Usually circular, featuring an attachment for a chain or ribbon
- Diameter: A minimum of 60 mm
- Thickness: A minimum of 3 mm
- First place (the gold medal): It is composed at least 92.5% of silver, plated with 6 grams of gold; the metal value was about US$494 in 2010.
- Second place (the silver medal): 92.5% silver; the metal value was about US$260 in 2010.
- Third place (the bronze medal): In 2010 it was 97% copper with 0.5% tin and 2.5% zinc; the metal value was about US$3 in 2010. At the 2020 Summer Olympics held in 2021 in Tokyo, Japan it was 95% copper and 5% zinc with a metal value of about $5.
- Event details: The sport for which the medal has been awarded should be written on the medal
The first Olympic medals in 1896 were designed by French sculptor Jules-Clément Chaplain and depicted Zeus holding Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, on the obverse and the Acropolis on the reverse. They were made by the Paris Mint, which also made the medals for the 1900 Olympic Games, hosted by Paris. This started the tradition of giving the responsibility of minting the medals to the host city. For the next few Olympiads, the host city also chose the medal design. Until 1912 the gold medals were made of solid gold.
In 1923 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) launched a competition for sculptors to design the medals for the Summer Olympic Games. Giuseppe Cassioli's Trionfo design was chosen as the winner in 1928. The obverse brought back Nike but this time as the main focus, holding a winner's crown and palm with a depiction of the Colosseum in the background. In the top right section of the medal, a space was left for the name of the Olympic host and the Games numeral. The reverse features a crowd of people carrying a triumphant athlete. His winning design was first presented at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. The competition saw this design used for 40 years until the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich became the first Games with a different design for the reverse side of the medal.
Cassioli's design continued to inspire the obverse of the medal for many more years, though recreated each time, with the Olympic host and numeral updated. The obverse remained true to the Trionfo design until the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, where the IOC allowed an updated version to be created. For the next few events , they mandated the use of the Nike motif but allowed other aspects to change.
The trend ended after 2000, due to the negative reaction to the medal design for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. The designer of the 2000 medal (Wojciech Pietranik) had originally featured the Sydney Opera House on the obverse instead of the traditional Roman Colosseum but the International Olympic Committee decided that the Colosseum should remain. The Greek press criticised the design for ignorance of the birthplace of the Olympic Games, pointing out that the long-standing feature on the front of medals was mistakenly depicting the Roman Colosseum rather than the Greek Parthenon. The Sydney Organising Committee decided to continue with the design as it was, noting that there was insufficient time to complete another version and that it would be too costly. This long-standing error had remained for 76 years until a new style by Elena Votsi depicting the Panathenaic Stadium was introduced at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. This new obverse design remains in use.
Custom reverse designs
The German Olympic Committee, Nationales Olympisches Komitee für Deutschland, was the first Summer Games organisers to elect to change the reverse of the medal. The 1972 design was created by Gerhard Marcks, an artist from the Bauhaus, and features mythological twins Castor and Pollux. Since then the Organising Committee of the host city has been given the freedom of the design of the reverse, with the IOC giving final approval.
Comparison between Summer and Winter
The IOC has the final decision on the specifications of each design for all Olympic medals, including the Summer Games, Winter Games, and Paralympic Games. There has been a greater variety of design for the Winter Games; unlike with the Summer Games, the IOC never mandated one particular design. The medal at the inaugural 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France did not even feature the Olympic rings. Nike was featured on the medals of the 1932 and 1936 Games but has only appeared on one medal design since then. One regular motif is the use of the snowflake, while laurel leaves and crowns appear on several designs. The Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius features on four Winter Games medals but does not appear on any Summer Games medal.
For three events in a row, hosts of the Winter Games included different materials in the medals: glass (1992), sparagmite (1994), and lacquer (1998). It was not until the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China that a Summer Olympic host chose to use something different, in this case, jade. While every Summer Olympic medal except for the 1900 Games has been circular, the shapes of the Winter Games have been considerably more varied. The Winter Games medals are also generally larger, thicker, and heavier than those for the Summer Games.
Individual design details
Summer Olympic medal designs
|1896||Athens, Greece||Obverse: Zeus holding Nike
Reverse: The Acropolis
|Jules-Clément Chaplain||Paris Mint||48||3.8||47|
|1900||Paris, France||Obverse: Winged goddess holding laurel branches; Paris in the background
Reverse: A victorious athlete holding a laurel branch; the Acropolis in the background
Note: The only Summer Olympic medal that is not circular
|Frédérique Vernon||Paris Mint||59 x 41||3.2||53|
|1904||St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.||Obverse: Nike holding a laurel crown and a palm leaf
Reverse: An athlete holding a laurel crown; Greek temple in the background
|Dieges & Clust||Dieges & Clust||37.8||3.5||21|
|1908||London, Great Britain||Obverse: An athlete receiving a laurel crown from two female figures
Reverse: Saint George atop a horse
Edge: "Vaughton", event name and winner
|Bertram Mackennal||Vaughton & Sons||33||4.4||21|
|1912||Stockholm, Sweden||Obverse: An athlete receiving a laurel crown from two female figures
Reverse: A herald opening the Games with a statue of Pehr Henrik Ling behind him
|Bertram Mackennal (obverse)
Erik Lindberg (reverse)
|C.C. Sporrong & Co||33.4||1.5||24|
|1920||Antwerp, Belgium||Obverse: An athlete holding a laurel crown and a palm leaf
Reverse: Statue of Silvius Brabo
Edge: Name, event, team, "Antwerp", and the date
|1924||Paris, France||Obverse: An athlete helping another to stand
Reverse: A harp and various items of sports equipment
|André Rivaud||Paris Mint||55||4.8||79|
|1928||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Design: Trionfo
Note: This obverse design, sometimes recreated, remains until 2004, the reverse design remained until 1972
|Giuseppe Cassioli||Dutch State Mint||55||3||66|
|1932||Los Angeles, U.S.||Design: Trionfo||Giuseppe Cassioli||Whitehead & Hoag||55.3||5.7||96|
|1936||Berlin, Germany||Design: Trionfo
"B.H MAYER PFORZHEIM 990"
|Giuseppe Cassioli||B.H. Mayer||55||5||71|
|1948||London, Great Britain||Design: Trionfo||Giuseppe Cassioli||John Pinches||51.4||5.1||60|
|1952||Helsinki, Finland||Design: Trionfo
Edge: 916 M / Y6 (Factory Stamp)
|Giuseppe Cassioli||Kultakeskus Oy||51||4.8||46.5|
|1956||Melbourne, Australia||Design: Trionfo||Giuseppe Cassioli||K.G. Luke||51||4.8||68|
|1960||Rome, Italy||Design: Trionfo
Surround: A bronze laurel wreath and laurel leaf chain
|Giuseppe Cassioli||Artistice Fiorentini||68||6.5||211|
|1964||Tokyo, Japan||Design: Trionfo||Giuseppe Cassioli and Toshikaka Koshiba||Japan Mint||60||7.5||62|
|1968||Mexico City, Mexico||Design: Trionfo||Giuseppe Cassioli||60||6||130|
|1972||Munich, Germany||Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: Castor and Pollux, twin sons of Zeus and Leda
Edge: Winner's name and sport
|Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse)
Gerhard Marcks (reverse)
|1976||Montreal, Quebec, Canada||Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: A stylised laurel crown and the Montreal Games logo
Edge: Name of the sport
|Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse)||Royal Canadian Mint||60||5.8||154|
|1980||Moscow, Russia||Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: A stylised Olympic flame and the Moscow Games logo
|Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse)
Ilya Postol (reverse)
|1984||Los Angeles, U.S.||Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse:An Olympic champion held aloft by a crowd
Note: The reverse returns to the Cassioli design
|Giuseppe Cassioli||Jostens, Inc||60||7.9||141|
|1988||Seoul, South Korea||Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: An outline of a dove carrying a laurel branch and the Seoul Olympic logo
|Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse)||Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation||60||7||152|
|1992||Barcelona, Spain||Obverse: Updated interpretation of Trionfo
Reverse: Barcelona Games logo
|Xavier Corbero||Royal Mint of Spain||70||9.8||231|
|1996||Atlanta, U.S.||Obverse: Updated interpretation of Trionfo
Reverse: A stylised olive branch, the Atlanta Games logo, and "Centennial Olympic Games"
Edge: "Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games"
|Malcolm Grear Designers||Reed & Barton||70||5||181|
|2000||Sydney, Australia||Obverse: Updated interpretation of Trionfo
Reverse: The Sydney Opera House, Olympic Flame, and Olympic rings
Edge: Event name
|Wojciech Pietranik||Royal Australian Mint||68||5||180|
|2004||Athens, Greece||Obverse: Nike with Panathinaiko Stadium in the background
Reverse: The Olympic Flame, the opening lines of Pindar's Eighth Olympic Ode, and the Athens Games logo
|2008||Beijing, China||Obverse: Nike with Panathinaiko Stadium in the background
Reverse: a jade ring with the Beijing Games logo in the centre and the event details on the outer edge
|Xiao Yong||China Banknote Printing and Minting Corporation||70||6||200|
|2012||London, United Kingdom||Obverse: Nike with Panathinaiko Stadium in the background
Reverse: The River Thames and the London Games logo with angled lines in the background
|David Watkins||Royal Mint||85||8–10||357–412|
|2016||Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||Obverse: Nike with Panathinaiko Stadium in the background
Reverse: The Rio 2016 logo and name, surrounded by a laurel leaf design in the form of the wreaths
Edge: The name of the event for which the medal was won is engraved by laser along the outside edge.
Note: For the first time, the medals are slightly thicker at their central point compared with their edges.
|Casa da Moeda do Brasil||85||6-11||500|
|2020||Tokyo, Japan||Obverse: Nike with Panathinaiko Stadium in the background
Reverse: The Tokyo 2020 logo and name, surrounded by rays of sun.
|Junichi Kawanishi||Japan Mint||85||7.7-12.1||450-556|
Winter Olympic medal designs
|1924||Chamonix, France||Obverse: A skier holding skates and skis and the designer's name
Reverse: Written information about the Games
|Raoul Bernard||Paris Mint||55||4||75|
|1928||St. Moritz, Switzerland||Obverse: A skater surrounded by snowflakes
Reverse: Olive branches and host details
|Arnold Hunerwadel||Huguenin Frères||50.4||3||51|
|1932||Lake Placid, U.S.||Obverse: Nike with the Adirondack Mountains in the background
Reverse: Laurel leaves and written host details
Shape: Circular but not with a straight edge
|1936||Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany||Obverse: Nike atop a horse-drawn chariot traversing an arch over winter sporting equipment
Reverse: Large Olympic rings
|Richard Klein||Deschler & Sohn||100||4||324|
|1948||St. Moritz, Switzerland||Obverse: The Olympic torch with snowflakes in the background and the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius
Reverse: A snowflake and written host details
|Paul Andre Droz||Huguenin Frères||60.2||3.8||103|
|1952||Oslo, Norway||Obverse: The Olympic torch and the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius
Reverse: A pictogram of Oslo City Hall with three snowflakes and written host details
|Vasos Falireus and Knut Yvan||Th. Marthinsen||70||3||137.5|
|1956||Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy||Obverse: An "ideal woman" and written host details
Reverse: A large snowflake with Pomagagnon in the background, the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, and further host details
|Costanttino Affer||Lorioli Bros.||60.2||3||120.5|
|1960||Squaw Valley, U.S.||Obverse: The head of a male and female with host details written around them
Reverse: Large Olympic rings, the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, and the name of the sport
|Herff Jones||Herff Jones Company||55.3||4.3||95|
|1964||Innsbruck, Austria||Obverse: Torlauf Mountains, "Innsbruck 1964", and "Torlauf"
Reverse: The Olympic rings above the emblem of Innsbruck with host details around them
|Martha Coufal (obverse)
Arthur Zegler (reverse)
|1968||Grenoble, France||Obverse: Three snowflakes and the red rose emblem of Grenoble surrounded by host details
Reverse: A stylised image of each sport
|Roger Excoffon||Paris Mint||61||3.3||124|
|1972||Sapporo, Japan||Obverse: Pictogram of lines in the snow
Reverse: A snowflake, the Sun, and the Olympic rings
Shape: Square with rounded, wavy lines
|Yagi Kazumi (obverse)
Ikko Tanaka (reverse)
|Mint Bureau of the Finance Ministry||57.3 x 61.3||5||130|
|1976||Innsbruck, Austria||Obverse: The Olympic rings above the emblem of Innsbruck with host details around them
Reverse: The Alps, Bergisel, and the Olympic flame
|Martha Coufal (obverse)
Arthur Zegler (reverse)
|1980||Lake Placid, U.S.||Obverse: The Olympic torch held in front of the Adirondack Mountains
Reverse: A pine cone sprig and the Lake Placid logo
|Gladys Gunzer||Medallic Art Company||81||6.1||205|
|1984||Sarajevo, Yugoslavia||Obverse: Event logo with host details surrounding it
Reverse: An athlete's head wearing a laurel crown
Shape: Circular but set in a large rounded rectangular shape
|Nebojša Mitrić||Zlatara Majdanpek and Zavod za izradu novčanica||71.1 x 65.1||3.1||164|
|1988||Calgary, Alberta, Canada||Obverse: Event logo with host details surrounding it
Reverse: Two people, one wearing a laurel and the other wearing a headdress made up of winter sports equipment
|1992||Albertville, France||Obverse: Glass set into the metal, showing the Olympic rings in front of mountains
Reverse: Rear side of glass section
|René Lalique||René Lalique||92||9.1||169|
|1994||Lillehammer, Norway||Sparagmite partially covered in gold, one side showing the Olympic rings and host details, the other depicting the sport in which the medal was won and the Games emblem||Ingjerd Hanevold||Th. Marthinsen||80||8.5||131|
|1998||Nagano, Japan||Obverse: Partly lacquered, shows the Games emblem
Reverse: Mainly lacquer, containing the Games emblem over the Shinshu mountains
|Takeshi Ito||Kiso Kurashi Craft Center||80||8||261|
|2002||Salt Lake City, U.S.||Obverse: An athlete carrying the Olympic torch steps out of flames
Reverse: Nike holding a victory leaf surrounded by event details
Shape: Irregular circle, like the rocks in Utah's rivers
|Scott Given, Axiom Design||O.C. Tanner||85||10||567|
|2006||Turin, Italy||Obverse: Graphic elements of the Games
Reverse: Pictogram of the specific event
Shape: Circular with a hole representing a piazza
|2010||Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada||Obverse: An individually cropped section of a large First Nations artwork (orca or raven), making each medal unique
Reverse: Emblem of the Games and event details
Shape: Circular but with undulations stopping it from being flat
|Corrine Hunt and Omer Arbel||Royal Canadian Mint||100||6||500–576|
|2014||Sochi, Russian Federation||Obverse: "Patchwork quilt" design representing different regions of Russia
Reverse: Name of the competition in English and the Sochi logo
|ADAMAS||ADAMAS||100||10||460, 525, 531|
|2018||Pyeongchang County, South Korea||Hangul "symbolising the effort of athletes from around the world"||Lee Suk-woo||92.5||586, 580, 493|
Since the beginning of the modern Olympics the athletes and their support staffs, event officials, and certain volunteers involved in planning and managing the games have received commemorative medals and diplomas. Like the winners' medals, these are changed for each Olympic Festival, with different ones issued for the summer and winter games.
- Reverse of the plaque from the 1900 Olympic Games in France
- James Graves wearing a bronze medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics, the last version of the Trionfo design
The presentation of the medals and awards changed significantly until the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles brought in what has now become standard. Before 1932 all the medals were awarded at the closing ceremony, with the athletes wearing evening dress for the first few Games. Originally the presenting dignitary was stationary while the athletes filed past to receive their medals. The victory podium was introduced upon the personal instruction in 1931 of Henri de Baillet-Latour, who had seen one used at the 1930 British Empire Games. The winner is in the middle at a higher elevation, with the silver medallist to the right and the bronze to the left. At the 1932 Winter Olympics, medals were awarded in the closing ceremony, with athletes for each event in turn mounting the first-ever podium. At the Summer Olympics, competitors in the Coliseum received their medals immediately after each event for the first time; competitors at other venues came to the Coliseum the next day to receive their medals. Later Games have had a victory podium at each competition venue.
The 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy were the first in which the medals were placed around the neck of the athletes. The medals hung from a chain of laurel leaves, while they are now hung from a coloured ribbon. When Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics the competitors on the podium also received an olive wreath crown. In the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, each medalist received a wooden statuette of the Olympic logo.
- Olympics portal
- Summer Olympic coins
- Winter Olympic coins
- Lists of Olympic medalists
- James Brendan Connolly, recipient of the first winner's medal
- Pierre de Coubertin medal, a special medal awarded by the International Olympic Committee for sportsmanship or exceptional service to the Olympic movement
- Stewart, Emily (22 July 2021). "The price of Olympic glory". Vox. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
- Theophrastus, Enquiry into Plants, IV.13.2: 'the wild-olive [kotinos] at Olympia near the temple of zeus, from which the wreaths for the games are made".
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.7.7
- London 2012: Olympic medals timeline, BBC News. Retrieved 27 July 2011.
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- "After this followed the distribution of the second prizes. The King presented each winner a bronze medal and a laurel branch". (English version) But: "Darauf treten die zweiten Sieger einzeln heran und empfangen aus den Händen des Königs einen Lorbeerzweig und eine kupferne Medaille" (German version) Pierre de Coubertin and others, The Olympic Games In 1 8 9 6, Athens, London, Leipzig 1897, p.114 and p. 115. In: The Olympic Games B.C. 776. — A. D. 1896. Part II
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