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History of the Olympic Medals

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Carrying on the tradition from the ancient Olympic Games, the first modern Games crowned the winners with an olive wreath and 1st & 2nd place winners received silver and bronze medals respectively. While the games in 1900, no medals were awarded at all. Finally, in 1904 winners received the traditional gold, silver, and bronze medals for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. 

Some consistency emerged in 1928, when Italian artist Giuseppe Cassioli designed the medals for the Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Cassioli's design 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 until 1968. In 1972, the image started to be used only on the front side only.

In 2004, the IOC approved an updated version of this design.

Five Fun Facts

  1. No Olympian has received a solid gold medal since the 1912 Games.
  2. Gold medals are generally heavier than silver or bronze medals. For example, the Tokyo medals weigh 556g, 550g, and 450g, respectively.
  3. The gold medal won by sprinter Jesse Owens sold at auction for $1.5m in 2013. This medal was particularly valuable because it was won by an African American at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin which was during the Nazi control of Germany.
  4. Olympians are often seen biting their medals. This harkens back to the ancient practice of biting into gold to test its purity and authenticity.
  5. It wasn’t until 1960 that medals were designed to be worn around the neck. Prior to that, they were pinned to the winner’s chest.
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