Sunday, 5 August 2012

Olympic Medals .... Awards for Winning

Sport was such an important social and political activity in ancient Greece – with representatives from kingdoms and city states participating in a cycle of four sporting festivals, known as the Panhellenic Games – each one honouring a Greek God.

Ruins of the Temple of Zeus, Olympia
The Olympics is the oldest of such festivals held for the first time in 776BC in honour of the Greek god Zeus at his sanctuary in Olympia.

The principal events were chariot and horseracing, the Pentathlon (running, wrestling, long-jump, javelin and discus), separate running, wrestling events and also a footrace in full armour.

Ancient coins record some of these events as well as the ‘trophies’ awarded to the winners – such as laurel wreaths, olive garlands and amphorae of the finest olive oil.

Ancient amphorae designed for marine transport
taken from shipwrecks of the Bronze Age
Much as now, the home towns showered their sporting heroes with gifts and honoured them for their victorious results.

For the early modern Olympic Games in 1896 successful competitors were 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, USA and was applied retroactively for the 1896 and 1900 Games.

Cassiterite - the main ore of tin
Medals are not the only awards given to competitors; every athlete placed first to eighth receives a diploma – while in Lausanne at the IOC’s museum the names of all medal winners are written onto a wall.

Rock to dust to Olympic Medals starts at the ‘ginormous’ Kennecott mine in Bingham Valley, Utah that can be seen from space with a tiny extra amount of earth from Rio Tinto’s Mongolian mine;

Church and pub at Zennor,
with the sign of the Tinners' Arms

In all, eight tonnes of gold, silver and copper, with a pinch of zinc from Australia and a touch of tin from Cornwall will be extracted, refined, pummelled, hammered and ultimately designed into gold, silver and bronze medals.

4,700 medals will be presented during a total of 302 victory ceremonies at the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

This year’s Olympic medals are among the heaviest ever to be created, each one measuring 3.25 inches (8.25 cms) in diameter and weighing more than 14 oz (400 gms) ...

Gold Medal 2012 (front)

The gold medal is predominantly silver that has been plated with gold, the silver medal is mainly silver with some copper, while the bronze medal is made from copper, tin and zinc.

The IOC dictates the physical properties of the medals and has the final decision about the finished design - this has been created by the Decorative Arts team of the Royal Mint at Llantrisant, South Wales.

The circular form is a metaphor for the world.  The front of the medal always depicts the same imagery at the Summer Games: the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike, stepping out from the Parthenon to arrive in the host city.

The 2012 design for the reverse features five symbolic elements:

·        an amphitheatre representing ancient Greece
·        an architectural emblem as a metaphor for modern life
·        radiating lines of energy representing the athletes’ efforts
·        the River Thames in the background is a symbol for London, with a fluttering baroque ribbon adding a sense of celebration
·        the square draws the whole together emphasising its focus on the centre ... reinforcing the sense of ‘place’ as in a map inset.

So these medals – the weight of a can of baked beans! – have been on a long journey too ... rock to dust, metals extracted, refined, transported as ingots, button-sized pieces ... melted down again, moulded into blank discs ...

Dowlais Ironworks, South Wales
by George Childs (1840)

... which will have 22 more processing stages, including ten man-hours of work, before becoming an Olympic medal ... then to hang around the necks of the 2012 achieving Olympians ...

Those early prizes for the winners at the Ancient Olympic Games were a wild-olive tree branch intertwined to form a circle or a horseshoe, laurel wreaths, olive garlands and amphorae of the finest olive oil ...

The olive wreath, also known as
Kotinos, the prize for the winner
of the ancient Olympic Games

... have now evolved in 2012 into these magnificent medals for the three winners – Gold, Silver and Bronze ... congratulations to all athletes on their successful hard won achievements.

Dear Mr Postman ... I had a lovely time in Scotland, learnt a lot, relaxed watching lots of Olympics and met up with a wonderful family from times past ... all of which was an absolutely pleasure ... the 4.00 am start on Tuesday didn’t thrill me – but then I had nearly a whole day when I arrived at this very historically interesting area – more to follow.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Karen Jones Gowen said...

I think it's fascinating how this custom that began with Ancient Greece continues strong today. Interesting post, Hilary!

Diane said...

Glad you enjoyed the trip to Scotland, looking forward to hearing more about it.

Interesting post about the Olympics, some I knew, but a lot that I did not. Very educational, Have a lovely evening Diane

Old Kitty said...

What a great way to create these medals!! Amazing - what a journey - and after just watching the medal ceremony on BBC iplayer of wonderful Mo Farah, Rupp and Bekele as they touch and bite and play with their medals - it makes these medals come alive!!!

And there's more to come!! I'm loving this Olympics!!! Take care

Chuck said...

Hilary this kind of rounds this years Olympics for me...fascinating history you have uncovered here. I watched Mr Murray won tennis gold this AM and the Great Britain womens team pursuit take the gold last night. Most amazing so far is Mr Pistoris and his running "blades". I was blown away by two things, 1) how fast he could run with those prothesis and 2) that the Olympic Committee actually allowed him to participate...bravo for a great human decision! Glad you enjoyed Scotland.

MorningAJ said...

I love the fact that the post office is producing comemorative stamps (overnight) for all the gold medal winner, snd painting a postbox in their home towns gold. Isn't that great?

Jo said...

Personally I would rather have the amphora of olive oil. Interesting information Hilary, thanks. Not sure I would want to hang the weight of a can of beans round my neck, LOL

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Karen - that the customs are retained is so interesting .. and that we uncovered them and so know about them .. research is so amazing.

@ Diane - Scotland was good thank you .. I certainly didn't know some of the aspects of the medals .. the diploma for instance .. thank you I watched some Olympics!

@ Old Kitty - your phrase 'makes the medals come alive' is a great way of putting it. Not sure about this biting of the medals though .. I know in the old days you used to test metal this way .. like you - I'm enjoying the Olympics ..

@ Chuck - delighted this added an extra insight for you. I watched some of the tennis too - but do you know I missed seeing Oscar Pistorius run - and am not even sure how he did .. hope I can catch up.

Re the decision allowing him to run - it was a hard fought battle, but I'm so pleased he is allowed to participate. Scotland was fun.

@ Morning AJ - the post office are sure cashing in .. commemorative stamps (overnight) and then the gold post boxes - I saw them painting the one near Jess Ennis'home. It is a wonderful idea - that will make the sale of stamps go up! Love the post boxes though .. a Grand Tour that would make!

@ Jo - the olive oil would be worth its weight in gold nearly three millennia ago ... so you'd be on a good wicket. The baked bean can was an interesting snippet I picked up in Scotland!

Thanks and lovely to see you all - cheers Hilary

Juliet said...

More fascinating information, thanks Hilary. NZ has been doing well for a small country and we are thrilled to have won some gold medals. I'm not surprised that they are so heavy, and am most interested on how the medals developed, and how they are inscribed. I believe Britain is doing pretty well too.

Jannie Funster said...

Hilary, Kelly, Jim and I were talking just yesterday and wondering if the gold medal was real gold. Now I can tell them both..... "The gold medal is predominantly silver that has been plated with gold, the silver medal is mainly silver with some copper, while the bronze medal is made from copper, tin and zinc" and they will be duly impressed with me.


Karen Lange said...

Hilary, thank you, for keeping us informed and entertained. You do it with such style and grace, and quite a bit of fun!

Hope you have a lovely week!

Thinking of you,

Glynis Peters said...

What an informative post (as was the previous one). It was interesting learning more about the medals, and the Olympics.

Team GB have certainly done the island and themselves proud. A pleasure to see such sportsmanship.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Oh, Hilary, I wish I could have sat right next to you at the Olympic games instead of watching them from home.

I believe that sport is all our minds from a young age. It probably has something to do with the survival gene. :)


Unknown said...

I didn't know the gold medal was only gold-plated and weighed so much. How interesting.

Karen Walker said...

On our recent trip to Greece we went to Olympia and stood in the original ancient stadium. It was so inspiring.

Betsy Brock said...

wow...I learned so much! Thanks for posting this! I sure have enjoyed watching the Olympics...they are so inspirational!

Betsy Brock said...

And how fun for you to be there!!!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I considered the medal to be heavy, but a can of beans, wow! That's heavy. Thanks for sharing this, Hilary. Fascinating stuff.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Juliet - I saw today .. how well you were doing in the medal table - they highlighted it on tv .. that you were above the Aussies in the medal table ... pity we didn't start with a bang - otherwise we'd be off the medal table! It's being amazing how things are turning out .. wonderful for all the sports.

@ Jannie - well great I can help the family with some info .. glad I bolstered the Jannie head with that info! Delighted Kelly is loving the gymnastics ...

@ Karen - delighted to read you're enjoying my few posts so far .. I'll try and add a few more this week. - Many thanks for your thoughts .. appreciate those.

@ Glynis - thanks so much .. it's fun imparting some of the unusual facts and stats re the Olympics ... As you say Team GB are doing pretty well aren't they!

Also the sportsmanship is something to behold ...

@ Teresa - honestly you wouldn't I haven't sat and watched them - I pick up bits and pieces and then perhaps catch an hour or so in the evening - stretching to two hours now the Athletics is on! I didn't even watch the tennis .. it's on in the background sometimes.

@ Clarissa - the mix of the medal is interesting - back in 1908 the medals were gold. The weight is a surprise isn't it ..

@ Karen - I thought I remembered you'd visited that ancient stadium - must have been amazing to be there ... I'm sure it was inspiring.

@ Betsy - it's fun isn't it - I love the sights we get to see .. the camera shots have been amazing.

It's fun having the BBC coverage - and in our time frame ..

@ Joylene - it's certainly heavy .. having a tin of baked beans around my neck would drag me to the floor - though I'd be very happy with a gold medal!!

Thanks everyone - lovely to see you .. I'm slowly on my way back to my Reader ... cheers Hilary

Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't think the medals weighed that much. Thank you for the close-ups of the medals. They are very beautifully detailed.

Glad you had a nice time in Scotland!

writing and living by Richard P Hughes said...

Perhaps the Olympics should be held in Greece for the next hundred years to help out their economy.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Susanne - it was lovely up in Scotland and I had great fun 'just being' .. The medals are superb aren't they ... despite their weight.

@ Richard - I don't think the Athens Games helped the Greek economy much if at all .. and their stadia are left unused ... the Brits appear to have learnt from this - and I hope the economy makes some money from our 2012 Games.

Good to see you - Hilary

Tina said...

Hey Hilary,
Sorry for not being by in a while...been road-tripping all summer, not doing a good job of keeping up with my current blog friends...
Loved this history lesson - Jo sent me. Fascinating to learn what it takes to make a medal these days. I'm a history buff so I soaked up a lot from this. Thanks.

Tina @ Life is Good
Post A-Z Road trip!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tina - I'm sorry not to have got to your comment - I've been a bit all over the place - but delighted you came over via Jo.

Summer is always tricky for us all to keep up with things - and this year has been a little more challenging for me. So delighted to see you ...

I'll now come over and catch up on your road trip - thanks for coming by .. cheers Hilary