Evolution of Olympic Medals

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What is the design responsibility of Olympic medals?

The host nation

Which material were gold medals made of at the 2012 London Olympic Games?

6 grams of real gold

What is the most expensive Olympic medal ever sold?

Gold medal won by Jesse Owens in 1936

What does the reverse side of Olympic medals typically display?

Olympic rings, motto, and year of the Games

What is the main reason for changing the material of silver medals in the 2012 London Olympics?

Cost constraints

What makes Olympic medals highly collectible according to the text?

Historical and artistic significance

What was the prize for victors in the ancient Olympic Games?

A laurel wreath

During World War II, what happened to the awarding of Olympic medals?

They were not awarded

What materials are traditionally used to make Olympic medals?

Silver with a thin coating of gold, Silver-plated bronze, Alloy of copper and tin

Why were the first gold medals in the modern Olympic Games made of 90% silver and 10% gold?

To save costs

What was the reason for adding a silver overlay to the bronze Olympic medals after World War II?

To maintain traditional Olympic colors

What was the main material used in creating the silver medal during a shortage of gold after World War II?

Silver-plated bronze

Study Notes

The Prized Medal: A Brief History of Olympic Medals

Since the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, medals have been the tangible proof of athletes' accomplishments and a symbol of their hard work and dedication. Let's delve into the history and evolution of these cherished medallions, prized by athletes and collectors alike.

Medals Through the Ages

In the ancient Olympic Games, victors received a laurel wreath, not a medal. The laurel wreath symbolized peace and victory and was often worn by great leaders and heroes. The tradition of awarding medals at the Olympic Games began with the modern revival in the late 19th century. The first medals were made of silver, with the gold medals being 90% silver and 10% gold. This was due to the high cost of gold at the time.

During World War II, the Olympic Games were suspended, and medals were not awarded. When the Games resumed in 1948, there was a shortage of gold, so the medals were made of silver-plated bronze, with the medallions themselves being solid bronze. The silver overlay was added to maintain the traditional Olympic colors: gold, silver, and bronze.

Materials and Design

Olympic medals are traditionally made of silver with a thin coating of gold for the gold medal, and silver-plated bronze for the silver medal. The bronze medal consists of an alloy of copper and tin, with a thin silver coating. Starting from the 2012 London Olympic Games, the gold medals were made of 6 grams of real gold, a reduction from the previous 9 grams. The silver medals are now made of silver-plated steel, a switch from pure silver due to cost constraints.

The design of Olympic medals is the responsibility of the host nation, which is free to express its creativity and cultural heritage. The front side of the medals typically features the emblem of the host city or country. The reverse side usually displays the Olympic rings, the Olympic motto, and the year of the Games. The design of the medals is finalized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Medal Awards

The medal ceremony is one of the most iconic events at the Olympic Games. Athletes who place first, second, and third in an event receive a gold, silver, and bronze medal, respectively. The order of the medalists is determined by their final event results, as in all sports competitions.

In addition to the medals awarded for individual events, the IOC creates special medals for team events. For example, the gold medalists in team sports such as basketball or soccer receive gold medals with an image of their sport's emblem instead of the traditional Olympic rings.

The Value of Olympic Medals

Olympic medals have become highly collectible items, with some fetching astronomical prices at auctions and on the secondary market. The most expensive Olympic medal ever sold was the gold medal won by American sprinter Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. The medal sold for $1.465 million in 2013.

While some collectors are fascinated by the historical and artistic significance of Olympic medals, others are drawn to their rarity and the stories that accompany them. One such example is the bronze medal won by George Eyser at the 1904 Olympic Games, which he won despite a wooden leg. Eyser's medal sold for $660,000 in 2013, setting a record for the highest price paid for a bronze medal.


Olympic medals are more than just symbols of athletic achievement; they are works of art that reflect the host city's cultural heritage, the athletes' dedication to their sport, and the collective spirit of the Olympic Games. As the Games evolve and change, so too do the medals, adapting to new materials, designs, and values. Regardless of their composition or cost, Olympic medals remain a cherished reminder of the human spirit's power to overcome obstacles and inspire others.

Explore the rich history and design evolution of Olympic medals, from ancient laurel wreaths to modern-day silver, gold, and bronze masterpieces. Learn about the materials used, the intricate designs, and the symbolic significance of these coveted awards.

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