Olympic medals
A silver medal awarded to the winner of an event at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
Awarded forGiven to successful competitors in various Olympic Sports
Presented byInternational Olympic Committee
First award1896

An Olympic medal is awarded to successful competitors at one of the Olympic Games. There are three classes of medal to be won: gold, silver, and bronze, awarded to first, second, and third place, respectively. The granting of awards is laid out in detail in the Olympic protocols.

Medal designs have varied considerably since the Games in 1896, particularly in the size of the medals for the Summer Olympic Games. The design selected for the 1928 Games remained for many years, until its replacement at the 2004 Games in Athens as the result of controversy surrounding the use of the Roman Colosseum rather than a building representing Greek roots. The medals of the Winter Olympic Games never had a common design, but regularly feature snowflakes and the event where the medal has been won.

In addition to generally supporting their Olympic athletes, some countries[which?] provide sums of money and gifts[quantify] to medal winners, depending on the classes and number of medals won.[1]

Introduction and early history

The olive wreath was the prize for the winner at the Ancient Olympic Games. It was an olive branch, off the wild-olive tree that grew at Olympia,[2] intertwined to form a circle or a horse-shoe. According to Pausanias, it was introduced by Heracles as a prize for the winner of the running race to honour Zeus.[3]

When the modern Olympic Games began in 1896 medals started to be given to successful olympian competitors. However, gold medals were not awarded at the inaugural Olympics in 1896 in Athens, Greece.[4] The winners were instead given a silver medal and an olive branch,[5] while runners-up received a laurel branch and a copper or bronze medal.[6]

A silver medal from the 1900 Summer Olympics, designed by Frédérique Vernon

The 1900 Summer Olympics is unique in being the only Olympic Games to feature rectangular medals, which were designed by Frédérique Vernon.[7] Gilt silver medals were awarded for 1st place in shooting, lifesaving, automobile racing and gymnastics.[8][9] Whilst 2nd place silver medals were awarded in shooting, rowing, yachting, tennis, gymnastics, sabre, fencing, equestrian and athletics.[10] With 3rd place bronze medals being awarded in gymnastics, firefighting and shooting.[11][12] In many sports, however, medals were not awarded. With most of the listed prizes being cups and other trophies.[13]

The custom of the sequence of gold, silver, and bronze for the first three places in all events dates from the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri in the United States. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has retroactively assigned gold, silver and bronze medals to the three best-placed athletes in each event of the 1896 and 1900 Games.[14][13] If there is a tie for any of the top three places all competitors are entitled to receive the appropriate medal according to IOC rules.[15] Some combat sports (such as boxing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling) award two bronze medals per competition, resulting in, overall, more bronze medals being awarded than the other colours.

Medals are not the only awards given to competitors; every athlete placed first to eighth receives an Olympic diploma. Also, at the main host stadium, the names of all medal winners are written onto a wall.[15] Finally, as noted below, all athletes receive a participation medal and diploma.

Production and design

A collection of medals won by Polish athletes, at the Museum of Sport and Tourism in Warsaw

The IOC dictates the physical properties of the medals and has the final decision about the finished design. Specifications for the medals are developed along with the National Olympic Committee (NOC) hosting the Games, though the IOC has brought in some set rules:[15][16]

The first Olympic medals in 1896 were designed by French sculptor Jules-Clément Chaplain and depicted Zeus holding Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, on the obverse and the Acropolis on the reverse.[4] They were made by the Paris Mint, which also made the medals for the 1900 Olympic Games, hosted by Paris. This started the tradition of giving the responsibility of minting the medals to the host city. For the next few Olympiads, the host city also chose the medal design. Until 1912 the gold medals were made of solid gold.[21]


The bronze medal from the 1980 Summer Olympics showing Cassioli's obverse design portraying Nike, the Greek goddess of victory

In 1923 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) launched a competition for sculptors to design the medals for the Summer Olympic Games. Giuseppe Cassioli's Trionfo design was chosen as the winner in 1928.[4][22][23] The obverse brought back Nike but this time as the main focus, holding a winner's crown and palm with a depiction of the Colosseum in the background.[22] In the top right section of the medal, a space was left for the name of the Olympic host and the Games numeral.

The reverse features a crowd of people carrying a triumphant athlete. His winning design was first presented at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. The medals for the 1960 Games in Rome inverted the design, with the obverse featuring the crowd and the reverse featuring Nike.[24] The competition saw this design used for 40 years until the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich became the first Games with a different design for the reverse side of the medal.[4]

Cassioli's design continued to inspire the obverse of the medal for many more years, though recreated each time, with the Olympic host and numeral updated. The obverse remained true to the Trionfo design until the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, where the IOC allowed an updated version to be created. For the next few events , they mandated the use of the Nike motif but allowed other aspects to change.[16]

The trend ended after 2000, due to the negative reaction to the medal design for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. The designer of the 2000 medal (Wojciech Pietranik) had originally featured the Sydney Opera House on the obverse instead of the traditional Roman Colosseum but the International Olympic Committee decided that the Colosseum should remain.[25] The Greek press criticised the design for ignorance of the birthplace of the Olympic Games, pointing out that the long-standing feature on the front of medals was mistakenly depicting the Roman Colosseum rather than the Greek Parthenon.[4][26] The Sydney Organising Committee decided to continue with the design as it was, noting that there was insufficient time to complete another version and that it would be too costly.[16] After 76 years a new style by designer Elena Votsi depicting the Panathenaic Stadium was introduced at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.[27] This new obverse design remains in use.

Custom reverse designs

The German Olympic Committee, Nationales Olympisches Komitee für Deutschland, was the first Summer Games organisers to elect to change the reverse of the medal. The 1972 design was created by Gerhard Marcks, an artist from the Bauhaus, and features mythological twins Castor and Pollux.[28] Since then the Organising Committee of the host city has been given the freedom of the design of the reverse, with the IOC giving final approval.

Comparison between Summer and Winter

The IOC has the final decision on the specifications of each design for all Olympic medals, including the Summer Games, Winter Games, Summer Paralympic Games and Winter Paralympic Games. There has been a greater variety of design applications for the Winter Games; unlike with the Summer Games, the IOC never mandated one particular design. The medal at the inaugural 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France did not even feature the Olympic rings. Nike was featured on the medals of the 1932 and 1936 Games but has only appeared on one medal design since then. One regular motif is the use of the snowflake, while laurel leaves and crowns appear on several designs. The Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius features on four Winter Games medals but does not appear on any Summer Games medal.

For three events in a row, hosts of the Winter Games included different materials in the medals: glass (1992), sparagmite (1994), and lacquer (1998). It was not until the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China that a Summer Olympic host chose to use something different, in this case, jade. While every Summer Olympic medal except for the 1900 Games has been circular, the shapes of the Winter Games have been considerably more varied. The designs for the Winter Games medals are also generally larger, thicker, and heavier than those for the Summer Games.

Individual design details

Summer Olympic medal designs

Details about the medals from each of the Summer Olympic Games:[28][29]

Games Host Details Designer(s) Mint Diameter
1896 Athens, Greece Obverse: Zeus holding Nike
Reverse: The Acropolis
Jules-Clément Chaplain Paris Mint 48 3.8 047
1900 Paris, France Obverse: Winged goddess (possible Nike) holding laurel branches; Paris in the background
Reverse: A victorious athlete holding a laurel branch; the Acropolis in the background
Note: The only Summer Olympic medal that is not circular
Frédérique Vernon Paris Mint 59 x 41 3.2 053
1904 St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. Obverse: Nike holding a laurel crown and a palm leaf
Reverse: An athlete holding a laurel crown; Greek temple in the background
Dieges & Clust Dieges & Clust 37.8 3.5 021
1908 London, Great Britain Obverse: An athlete receiving a laurel crown from two female figures
Reverse: Saint George atop a horse
Edge: "Vaughton", event name and winner
Bertram Mackennal Vaughton & Sons 33 4.4 021
1912 Stockholm, Sweden Obverse: An athlete receiving a laurel crown from two female figures
Reverse: A herald opening the Games with a statue of Pehr Henrik Ling behind him
Bertram Mackennal (obverse)
Erik Lindberg (reverse)
C.C. Sporrong & Co 33.4 1.5 024
1920 Antwerp, Belgium Obverse: An athlete holding a laurel crown and a palm leaf
Reverse: Statue of Silvius Brabo
Edge: Name, event, team, "Antwerp", and the date
Josué Dupon Coosmans 59 4.4 079
1924 Paris, France Obverse: An athlete helping another to stand
Reverse: A harp and various items of sports equipment
André Rivaud Paris Mint 55 4.8 079
1928 Amsterdam, Netherlands Design: Trionfo
Note: This obverse design, sometimes recreated, remains until 2004, the reverse design remained until 1972
Giuseppe Cassioli Dutch State Mint 55 3 066
1932 Los Angeles, California, U.S. Design: Trionfo Giuseppe Cassioli Whitehead & Hoag 55.3 5.7 096
1936 Berlin, Germany Design: Trionfo Giuseppe Cassioli B.H. Mayer 55 5 071
1948 London, Great Britain Design: Trionfo Giuseppe Cassioli John Pinches 51.4 5.1 060
1952 Helsinki, Finland Design: Trionfo
Edge: 916 M / Y6 (Factory Stamp)
Giuseppe Cassioli Kultakeskus Oy 51 4.8 046.5
1956 Melbourne, Australia Design: Trionfo Giuseppe Cassioli K.G. Luke 51 4.8 068
1960 Rome, Italy Design: Trionfo
Surround: A bronze laurel wreath and laurel leaf chain

(The Rome games were the first to place the medal around the athletes neck)

Giuseppe Cassioli Artistice Fiorentini 68 6.5 211
1964 Tokyo, Japan Design: Trionfo Giuseppe Cassioli and Toshikaka Koshiba Japan Mint 60 7.5 062
1968 Mexico City, Mexico Design: Trionfo Giuseppe Cassioli 60 6 130
1972 Munich, West Germany Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: Castor and Pollux, twin sons of Zeus and Leda
Edge: Winner's name and sport
Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse)
Gerhard Marcks (reverse)
Bavarian Mint 66 6.5 102
1976 Montreal, Quebec, Canada Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: A stylised laurel crown and the Montreal Games logo
Edge: Name of the sport
Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse) Royal Canadian Mint 60 5.8 154
1980 Moscow, Russia Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: A stylised Olympic flame and the Moscow Games logo
Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse)
Ilya Postol (reverse)
Moscow Mint 60 6.8 125
1984 Los Angeles, California, U.S. Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: An Olympic champion held aloft by a crowd
Note: The reverse returns to the Cassioli design
Giuseppe Cassioli Jostens, Inc 60 7.9 141
1988 Seoul, South Korea Obverse: Trionfo
Reverse: An outline of a dove carrying a laurel branch and the Seoul Olympic logo
Giuseppe Cassioli (obverse) Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation 60 7 152
1992 Barcelona, Spain Obverse: Updated interpretation of Trionfo
Reverse: Barcelona Games logo
Xavier Corbero Royal Mint of Spain 70 9.8 231
1996 Atlanta, U.S. Obverse: Updated interpretation of Trionfo
Reverse: A stylised olive branch, the Atlanta Games logo, and "Centennial Olympic Games"
Edge: "Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games"
Malcolm Grear Designers Reed & Barton 70 5 181
2000 Sydney, Australia Obverse: Updated interpretation of Trionfo
Reverse: The Sydney Opera House, Olympic Flame, and Olympic rings
Edge: Event name
Wojciech Pietranik Royal Australian Mint 68 5 180
2004 Athens, Greece Obverse: Nike of Paionios with Panathenaic Stadium in the background
Reverse: The Olympic Flame, the opening lines of Pindar's Eighth Olympic Ode, and the Athens Games logo
Elena Votsi 60 5 135
2008 Beijing, China Obverse: Nike with Panathenaic Stadium in the background
Reverse: A jade ring with the Beijing Games logo in the centre and the event details on the outer edge
Xiao Yong[30] China Banknote Printing and Minting Corporation 70 6 200
2012 London, United Kingdom Obverse: Nike with Panathenaic Stadium in the background
Reverse: The River Thames and the London Games logo with angled lines in the background
David Watkins Royal Mint 85 8–10 357–412[31]
2016 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Obverse: Nike with Panathenaic Stadium in the background
Reverse: The Rio 2016 logo and name, surrounded by a laurel leaf design in the form of the wreaths
Edge: The name of the event for which the medal was won is engraved by laser along the outside edge.
Note: For the first time, the medals are slightly thicker at their central point compared with their edges.[32]
Casa da Moeda do Brasil 85 6–11[33] 500[34]
2020 Tokyo, Japan Obverse: Nike with Panathenaic Stadium in the background
Reverse: The Tokyo 2020 logo and name, surrounded by rays of sun.
Junichi Kawanishi[35] Japan Mint[36] 85 7.7–12.1 450–556

Winter Olympic medal designs

Details about the medals from each of the Winter Olympic Games:[4][37]

Games Host Details Designer(s) Mint[15] Diameter
1924 Chamonix, France Obverse: A skier holding skates and skis and the designer's name
Reverse: Written information about the Games
Raoul Bénard Paris Mint 055 04 075
1928 St. Moritz, Switzerland Obverse: A skater surrounded by snowflakes
Reverse: Olive branches and host details
Arnold Hunerwadel Huguenin Frères 050.4 03 051
1932 Lake Placid, U.S. Obverse: Nike with the Adirondack Mountains in the background
Reverse: Laurel leaves and written host details
Shape: Circular but not with a straight edge
Robbins Company 055 03 051
1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany Obverse: Nike atop a horse-drawn chariot traversing an arch over winter sporting equipment
Reverse: Large Olympic rings
Richard Klein Deschler & Sohn 100 04 324
1948 St. Moritz, Switzerland Obverse: The Olympic torch with snowflakes in the background and the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius
Reverse: A snowflake and written host details
Paul Andre Droz Huguenin Frères 060.2 03.8 103
1952 Oslo, Norway Obverse: The Olympic torch and the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius
Reverse: A pictogram of Oslo City Hall with three snowflakes and written host details
Vasos Falireus and Knut Yvan Th. Marthinsen 070 03 137.5
1956 Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy Obverse: An "ideal woman" and written host details
Reverse: A large snowflake with Pomagagnon in the background, the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, and further host details
Costanttino Affer Lorioli Bros. 060.2 03 120.5
1960 Squaw Valley, U.S. Obverse: The head of a male and female with host details written around them
Reverse: Large Olympic rings, the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, and the name of the sport
Herff Jones Herff Jones Company 055.3 04.3 095
1964 Innsbruck, Austria Obverse: Torlauf Mountains, "Innsbruck 1964", and "Torlauf"
Reverse: The Olympic rings above the emblem of Innsbruck with host details around them
Martha Coufal (obverse)
Arthur Zegler (reverse)
Austrian Mint 072 04 110
1968 Grenoble, France Obverse: Three snowflakes and the red rose emblem of Grenoble surrounded by host details
Reverse: A stylised image of each sport
Roger Excoffon Paris Mint 061 03.3 124
1972 Sapporo, Japan Obverse: Pictogram of lines in the snow
Reverse: A snowflake, the Sun, and the Olympic rings
Shape: Square with rounded, wavy lines
Yagi Kazumi (obverse)
Ikko Tanaka (reverse)
Mint Bureau of the Finance Ministry 057.3 x 61.3 05 130
1976 Innsbruck, Austria Obverse: The Olympic rings above the emblem of Innsbruck with host details around them
Reverse: The Alps, Bergisel, and the Olympic flame
Martha Coufal (obverse)
Arthur Zegler (reverse)
Austrian Mint 070 05.4 164
1980 Lake Placid, U.S. Obverse: The Olympic torch held in front of the Adirondack Mountains
Reverse: A pine cone sprig and the Lake Placid logo
Gladys Gunzer Medallic Art Company 081 06.1 205
1984 Sarajevo, Yugoslavia Obverse: Event logo with host details surrounding it
Reverse: An athlete's head wearing a laurel crown
Shape: Circular but set in a large rounded rectangular shape
Nebojša Mitrić Zlatara Majdanpek and Zavod za izradu novčanica 71.1 x 65.1 03.1 164
1988 Calgary, Alberta, Canada Obverse: Event logo with host details surrounding it
Reverse: Two people, one wearing a laurel and the other wearing a headdress made up of winter sports equipment
Fridrich Peter Jostens 069 05 193
1992 Albertville, France Obverse: Glass set into the metal, showing the Olympic rings in front of mountains
Reverse: Rear side of glass section
René Lalique René Lalique 092 09.1 169
1994 Lillehammer, Norway Sparagmite partially covered in gold, one side showing the Olympic rings and host details, the other depicting the sport in which the medal was won and the Games emblem Ingjerd Hanevold Th. Marthinsen 080 08.5 131
1998 Nagano, Japan Obverse: Partly lacquered, shows the Games emblem
Reverse: Mainly lacquer, containing the Games emblem over the Shinshu mountains
Takeshi Ito Kiso Kurashi Craft Center 080 08 261
2002 Salt Lake City, U.S. Obverse: An athlete carrying the Olympic torch steps out of flames
Reverse: Nike holding a victory leaf surrounded by event details
Shape: Irregular circle, like the rocks in Utah's rivers
Scott Given, Axiom Design O.C. Tanner 085 10 567
2006 Turin, Italy Obverse: Graphic elements of the Games
Reverse: Pictogram of the specific event
Edge: words "XX Olympic Winter Games" in Italian, English, and French
Shape: Circular with a hole representing a piazza
Dario Quatrini Ottaviani 107 10 469
2010 Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Obverse: An individually cropped section of a large First Nations artwork (orca or raven), making each medal unique
Reverse: Emblem of the Games and event details
Shape: Circular but with undulations stopping it from being flat
Corrine Hunt and Omer Arbel Royal Canadian Mint 100 06 500–576
2014 Sochi, Russian Federation Obverse: "Patchwork quilt" design representing different regions of Russia
Reverse: Name of the competition in English and the Sochi logo
Edge: words "XXII Olympic Winter Games" in Russian, English, and French
Shape: Circular
ADAMAS ADAMAS[38] 100 10 460, 525, 531
2018 Pyeongchang County, South Korea Hangul "symbolising the effort of athletes from around the world"[39]
Edge: words "Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018" in Korean (stylized) and English
Lee Suk-woo 92.5 586, 580, 493
2022 Beijing, China The design and concept were a joint reinterpretation of the 2008 Summer Olympics as Beijing is the first Olympic dual host city.This medal design also incorporate the chinese astronomy and astrology ideals as the games were held coinciding with the Chinese New Year festivities.[40] Hang Hai

Participation medals

1964 Summer Olympic Games competitor medal awarded to Irish yachtsman Eddie Kelliher

Since the beginning of the modern Olympics the athletes and their support staffs, event officials, and certain volunteers involved in planning and managing the games have received commemorative medals and diplomas. Like the winners' medals, these are changed for each Olympic Festival, with different ones issued for the summer and winter games.[41]



Jim Thorpe receives his medal at the 1912 Summer Olympics

The presentation of the medals and awards varied significantly until the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles brought in what has now become standard. Before 1932 all the medals were awarded at the closing ceremony, with the athletes wearing evening dress for the first few Games. Originally the presenting dignitary was stationary while the athletes filed past to receive their medals. The victory podium was introduced upon the personal instruction in 1931 of Henri de Baillet-Latour, who had seen one used at the 1930 British Empire Games.[43] The winner is in the middle at a higher elevation, with the silver medallist to the right and the bronze to the left.[43] At the 1932 Winter Olympics, medals were awarded in the closing ceremony, with athletes for each event in turn mounting the first-ever podium. At the 1960 Summer Olympics, competitors in the Coliseum received their medals immediately after each event for the first time; competitors at other venues came to the Coliseum the next day to receive their medals.[15][43] Later Games have had a victory podium at each competition venue.

The 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy were the first in which the medals were placed around the neck of the athletes. The medals hung from a chain of laurel leaves, while they are now hung from a coloured ribbon.[28] When Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics the competitors on the podium also received an olive wreath crown. In the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, each medalist received a wooden statuette of the Olympic logo.[44]

It is customary for many medals at the Winter Olympics to be presented in a separate ceremony on the evening of or the evening after competition. At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the "medals plaza" was popularized as a way for the public to see presentations that would have otherwise taken place at far-flung, low-capacity or high-altitude venues and to have an evening program that often included musical performances.

See also


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