Updated 07/21/2021 – 21:26
The collective imagination of Olympic games is dominated by the medals, gold, silver and bronze, which are usually the dream of the great majority of athletes, and which are also a symbol of Historical continuity of the Games. Although in each edition they present particular and innovative aspects, also because of this symbolism of continuity they have common characteristics. The medals also have their own history.
The ancient Greeks do not distribute medals: only the winner of each test was entitled to the award which, physically, was a crown of olive sacred – although later the cities gave a more prosaic, but more substantial reward, in the form of money or property-. In Athens 1896s medals were given: from silver and bronze, to the first and second classified. Gold was excluded because, in the midst of controversy over the meaning of amateurism, especially driven by the Anglo-Saxons, gold was considered to have too ‘economic implications‘. In Paris 1900, within the general organizational chaos, medals were missing and there were those who became with a position of honor but with gifts, modest, of all kinds. A participant gave the box of combs that corresponded to the wife of the president of the jury of his test. It was in Saint Louis 1904 when it was decided to award three medals: gold, silver and bronze.
The composition of the medals corresponded to the ‘officers’, however only up to Antwerp 1920. The economic hardship after World War I advised cutting costs and sticking more to the symbolic value than the real one. Thus, it was established that the golden ‘only’ had a metal bath, giving himself more freedom with the silver and bronze. The layout was also unified since 1928, although with the error of including in it the Coliseum Roman, which had no real connection to Olympic history. From Munich 72 a specific design was allowed for the back of the medal and in Athens 2004 the one on the obverse was corrected, which now includes to the goddess Nik on the Panathinaiko stadium in Athens, the one used in the modern restoration of the Olympic Games, in 1896.
The Tokyo 2020 medals: recycled electronic devices
These basic lines have been followed for Tokyo 2020. The Japanese contribution, apart from the design of the reverse, has been the materials: the medals come entirely from material recycling, choosing this case obsolete electronic devices contributed by the Japanese population. They got 78,985 tons of used mobile phones, computers, keyboards, components … After the recycling process, 32 kilos of gold, 3,500 of silver and 2,200 of bronze, although because of the zinc component it contains, it would be more like brass.
With these materials, and taking into account that the gold medal is actually from silver, plated with six grams of gold, medals of 556 grams (gold), 550 (silver) and 450 (bronze). Its diameter is 85 millimeters and its thickness is 7.7 millimeters in the thinnest part to 12.1 in the thickest.
The design of the reverse has been the responsibility of the artist Junichi Kawanishi. Includes a ichimatsu moyo, circular a traditional geometric pattern, whose combination in the medals wants to represent the human union in diversity and effort for achieving the goals. It forms a kind of crown to which parallels can be found with the traditional Greek ones.
The ribbons with which they will hang from the neck of the laureates also have motifs of itchimatsu moyo and kasane don’t go, from the traditional kimonos. Similar motifs have been included in their cases in which they are stored. As is known, because of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be the athletes themselves who will pick them up and hang them around their necks.
It is not the first time that recycled material has been used to make the medals: was made in Vancouver 2010 and partly in Ro 2016, when ‘clean’ techniques were also used to separate the gold. Another type of material has also been used: at the Lillehamer Winter Games the medals were made of carved and coated stone, and cardboard medals were awarded at some skating world championships. But what doesn’t change is the symbolism. The monetary value of the gold medal is close to 500 euros, but its symbolic value is impossible to calculate.