Topend Sports Logo

Olympic Medals Bring Us Change

Winning a medal at the Olympic Games is the ultimate aim of athletes all around the world. Since the first Olympic medals presented over a hundred years ago, the designs and composition of these medals have changed significantly.

No Medals for the Ancient Olympic Games

It may surprise you, but in the Ancient Olympics, no medals were ever awarded. The first-place winner was given an Olive Wreath, made from leaves cut from the sacred tree at Olympia, to wear on their head. The second and third place winners were not seen to be worthy enough to get anything. The winner would also get eternal fame and usually many free things for the rest of their lives

Modern Olympic Games Medals

When the Olympics were revived in 1896, the winner received a silver medal and an olive wreath, and second place got a bronze medal and a laurel wreath. In 1900, most winners received cups or trophies instead of medals, and the medals that were awarded were rectangular. At the 1904 Games in St. Louis, gold replaced silver as the medal awarded for first place, and the world-famous tradition of gold medals for the winners started.

Medal Designs

Since 1928, the front side of every Summer Olympic Games medal has been essentially the same: an image of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, the Olympic Rings, the coliseum of ancient Athens, a Greek vase known as an amphora, a horse-drawn chariot, and the year, number of the Olympiad, and host city. In addition to this, each host city was allowed to add special details to this design for each Olympiad. Nike was chosen because as the Greek goddess of victory, she had a big role to play in the Ancient Olympics. She was worshiped alongside Zeus at the temples of Olympia, the original site of the Ancient Games.

Athens 2004 Olympic Gold Medal Athens 2004 Olympic Gold Medal

A new design for the Summer Olympic medals was created for the 2004 Games in Athens, to mark the Games coming home to Greece. The new image features the Greek Panathenaic Stadium (where the modern Olympics were revived in 1896) and a new image of Nike. The new image is based on a statue carved in 421 BC which was kept in the Temple of Zeus in Olympia and shows Nike flying into the stadium as if to crown the winners with a wreath.

Medal Composition

In 1904, when the Gold Medal was first introduced, it was made of pure gold. It wasn't until 1912 that the medals stopped being made of pure gold because the war caused shortages. Nowadays the gold medals are mostly made of sterling silver, with at least 6 grams of gold, mainly in the plating. That’s about 1.34%. 

The 2016 games in Rio decided to be environmentally active and made the silver and bronze medals out of approximately 30% recycled metal. 

In 2021, in Tokyo, they successfully managed to reach 100% recycled metal, by collecting rejected electronics from around the country. In total, 78,985 tons of discarded devices were collected, which included about 6.21 million old mobile phones, along with digital cameras, hand-held games, and laptops. 

The medals for the 2024 Paris Olympics are also recycled, but in a slightly different way! The Paris medals have a hexagonal inlay in the centre which is obviously not gold, silver, or bronze. So what is it? The designers have decided that every singe one of the 5,084 athletes who win medals will be leaving Paris with a piece of arguably the most precious French metal. That’s right, the inlay is a sliver of a beam of the Eiffel Tower, removed in a recent renovation.

Hopefully, future Olympic Games will see this shining example and follow in the path of making the Olympics sustainable far into the future.

Custom MedalsCustom Medals

With the increasing popularity of the Olympic Games, there is greater interest in playing sports. This is especially a great thing for the organizers of sporting competitions. You might consider custom medals as a reward, both to boost the morale of the competitors, and to enhance the visibility of the event brand. Perhaps you still have some doubts about custom medals. We invite you to watch this video, to understand the craftsmanship of making high-quality custom medals, find the type of medal you want to customize, and design a satisfactory medal.


Related Pages

send us a comment Any comments, suggestions, or corrections? Please let us know.

Olympics Extra

The next Olympics will be in Paris 2024, followed by the Winter edition in Milan-Cortina 2026. Check out the list of Olympic Games sports, as well as discontinued and demonstration sports.

Major Events Extra

The largest sporting event in the world is the Olympic Games, but there are many other multi-sport games. In terms of single sport events, nothing beats the FIFA World Cup. To see what's coming up, check out the calendar of major sporting events.

 → How to Cite