Olympic medals: A brief history

Feature: Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic medals

Back in the day, I mean really back, successful competition meant staying alive. Now, thankfully, athletes compete recreationally for medals in sport.

In Western tradition, the idea of medals can be traced back to Roman Emperors bestowing awards to the military, a custom that continues to present day and extends to civilian circles, such as academics and arts.

The ultimate symbol of victory in sports comes in the form of an Olympic medal, a reward that accompanies the personal satisfaction and prestige of the Games. Rewind a century, or two, and learn about the evolution of the Olympics and its top prize.

Jennifer Abel, Emilie Heymans

Divers Jennifer Abel and Emilie Heymans at the London 2012 Olympics

Ancient Games

As legend has it, Zeus battled his father, Cronus, for the throne and became the ruler of all Olympian deities. This myth propelled the inception and spirit of the Ancient Olympic Games.

Honouring Zeus, athletes who competed at the Ancient Games in 776 B.C. were awarded olive branches that grew at Olympia. Medals were not introduced until the modern era.

Bring in the hardware

Athens 1896 hosted the first modern Olympic games, but victory was not made of gold just yet. Instead, the top prize came in the form of a classic olive wreath, accompanied by a silver medal. Flanking the champion, the two runners-up received a laurel and a bronze medal.

DID YOU KNOW? The Sochi Olympic gold medals are worth an estimated $700 (CDN).

At St. Louis 1904, gold, silver and bronze were introduced in the form of a medallion brooch. It wasn’t until Rome 1960 that a laurel chain was designed for the medals, which evolved to a ribbon that Olympians earn today.

The Dufour-Lapointe sisters celebrate their medal victories.

The Dufour-Lapointe sisters celebrate their medal victories.

THE FACTS: Olympic Medal requirements

  • 3 mm thick
  • 60 mm diameter
  • Gold and silver medals composed of 92.5% silver
  • Each gold medal contains at least 6g of gold

Pan Am Medals

This July, athletes will compete for their own shot at victory with a medal designed by Métis artist, Christi Belcourt and produced by the Royal Canadian Mint, as a top-three reward.

Learn more about Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games medals

Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games medals.

Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games medals.

After the last lap, the final stretch or winning shot, the winners will be recognized and awarded with a medal at their respective venue. Victory celebrations will continue at Nathan Phillips Square as part of PANAMANIA Live’s nightly events.

In Guadalajara 2011, Canada finished 5th in the medal standings with 119 medals: 30 gold, 40 silver and 49 bronze.

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