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OLYMPIC REVIEW51OLYMPIC MEDALSAsk any athlete what he or she is aiming forat the next Olympic Games, and you canbe sure of one answer: a medal. Preferablygold. In fact, the word "athlete" actually comes fromthe Greek for "one who competed for prizes". And yet,although we often talk about winners - who's won themost (surprisingly it's not Michael Phelps; LarisaLatynina, a gymnast from the then Soviet Union holdsthe record with 18 medals), who was the oldest(Sweden's Oscar Swahn, for shooting, aged 72 yearsand 279 days), or who was the youngest (either anunidentified French boy who coxed the Dutch pairsrowing team in 1900, or more officially, the Greekgymnast Dimitrios Loundras, who finished third at thetender age of 10 years and 218 days in 1896) - wedon't speak much about the medals themselves. So you might not know that each medal is astandard size: at least 60mm across and 3mm thick.You might also be unaware that the gold medal isactually silver (at least 92.5 per cent) coated with atleast six grams of 24-carat gold, or that the bronzemedal is mainly made up of copper. And while the firstthree athletes at the Games receive a gold, silver anda bronze medal respectively, this hasn't always beenthe case (third to eighth places were awarded bronzemedals in the individual fencing events at the 1908Games in London, for example). It is also the case that at the ancient Olympiadsthere were no medals to be won, and even at the early modern Olympic Games the winner did notreceive a gold medal. Winners at the ancient OlympicGames in Olympia received two kinds of award: apalm branch immediately after the event, and later, onthe last day of the Games, a sacred olive wreathawarded at the temple of Zeus. When the Games werereintroduced in 1896 the awards ceremony naturallypaid tribute to this: those who came first wereawarded an olive branch, and those who camesecond, a branch of laurel. Both competitors were alsogiven a diploma, and a medal designed by Frenchartist Jules-Clément Chaplain - silver for first, andcopper for second. Both medals were 50mm indiameter and bore the image of Zeus on one side andthe site of the Acropolis on the other. Inscribed inGreek were the words "International Olympic Games in Athens in 1896".Even so, the medal wasn't yet fully established asa symbol of Olympic victory; four years later, in Paris,competitors were mainly awarded cups and trophies -and one was given an umbrella. It wasn't until the ?BelowThe medals for the 1992 Winter Games inAlbertville were created in glass for the first time and were entirely handmadeLeftCanadian pairKaillie Humphriesand HeatherMoyse celebratewith theirbobsleigh goldmedals at the2010 WinterGames inVancouver

1904 Olympic Games in St Louis that an Olympicathlete first won a gold medal. In 1907, theInternational Olympic Committee (IOC) decided toadopt a standard design for Olympic medals. The mostconsistent in form are those awarded at SummerGames. From the 1928 Games in Amsterdam untilMexico 1968, all medals had one thing in common:the obverse depicted Nike, the goddess of victory. In her left hand she held a palm and in her right,the winner's crown - a laurel wreath. In the lowerright-hand corner is a fragment of the Colosseum andinscribed above it is the number of the Olympiad, thename of the host city and the year. Symbolisingvictory, fraternity and universality, the design wascreated by Florentine artist Giuseppe Cassioli, whowon a competition held by the IOC in 1921. Thereverse side of the medal carried a depiction of anOlympic athlete hoisted high by the crowd, with the Olympic stadium in the background. In 1960, the Rome Organising Committeeintroduced a chain to hang each medal on (with theexception of medals awarded in certain team events),an echo of the tradition of awarding poets andintellectuals with chains that was popular in the MiddleAges. So unsure were they of how this new measuremight be received that the women presenting themedals were also equipped with a pair of scissors,ready to snip away should the IOC disapprove.Fortunately the opposite was the case, and now allOlympic medals are hung around the champion's neck, rather than presented on a cushion. The Organising Committee for the Games in Munichin 1972 took things a step further when it did away with the traditional reverse designaltogether and went Bauhaus: Gerhard Marck's medaldepicted two naked youths, Castor and Pollux; Zeusand Léda's twin sons and the patrons of sportscompetitions and friendship. This created a new tradition of keeping the Cassiolidesign on the obverse while each host city presented its own design on the reverse. This continued until2004, when, at the Games in Athens, a new obversemotif - and a new summer medal tradition - wasintroduced: Elena Votsi's design portrayed Nike flyinginto the Panathenian stadium, where the Games were first renewed in 1896, thus tying all Olympicsummer medals to the country of the Games' originfrom then on. The medals awarded at the Olympic WinterGames, by contrast, have been as wide ranging and as wonderful as the athletes they were designed toreward. They have varied in shape - from relativelysquare shaped (Sarajevo 1984), to doughnut (Turin2006) to "squircle" (Vancouver 2010). Some designershave chosen to represent their cities and their culturethrough symbolism - the medals awarded at Calgaryin 1988 for example, bear the motif of a native52OLYMPIC REVIEWOLYMPIC MEDALS"SO UNSURE WERE THEY OF HOWTHIS NEW CHAIN MIGHT BERECEIVED THAT THE WOMEN PRESENTING THE MEDALS WEREALSO EQUIPPED WITH A PAIR OFSCISSORS READY TO SNIP AWAY.FORTUNATELY THE OPPOSITE WASTHE CASE AND NOW ALL OLYMPICMEDALS ARE HUNG AROUND THE CHAMPION'S NECK"Below Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila(centre) afterwinning themarathon at the1960 Games inRome, the firstwhere the medals werehung on a chainBelow rightJapan's NaokoTakahashi withher gold medalfrom thewomen'smarathon inSydney in 2000 Above rightAustralian cyclist Ryan Bayleywith the Athens 2004 medal Right Double goldmedallist Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria poseswith the innovative and striking 'doughnut'medals from the 2006 Games in Turin