News & Events


July 12


The History of Olympic Medals

Every 4 years the world is united through sports. Competition runs through the streets of the city hosting the worldwide event. All over the world people tune-in to watch who is going to take the gold medal. Counting the number of medals your country takes home is a fan favorite. But, the famous medals haven’t always looked the way they do, and believe it or not, haven’t always existed.

The Olympic Medal Timeline

Turn the clock back to 776 B.C. when the ancient Greeks started the Olympic Games and the winners weren’t given medals. On the contrary, they were crowned with olive wreaths. The second and third place winners left empty handed.  In 1896 the first modern Olympics were held. These Olympic Games were the start of the coveted medals.

In 1896 when medals came to the games, silver was the ultimate prize. Second place got bronze and third place received nothing.  It was in 1902 that gold medals entered the Olympics as the winning prize, followed by silver and bronze.

Since 1928, Olympic medals have featured the same design on the front — a Greek goddess, the Olympic rings, the coliseum of ancient Athens, a Greek vase known as an amphora, a horse-drawn chariot, and the year, number of the Olympiad, and host city. The host city is then given liberty to add some of their own twist to the back of the medal.

The awards given at the Olympic Games have undergone many changes. In 1996 they received another change. The front of the medal, for the first time, was specific for each event.  The name of the even was engraved on the medal.

In 2000 the medals had another visible change. This was the first year that medals were personalized. On the back of the medals there was a space left open for athletes to engrave their name. Medals were now athlete specific.

2004 marked the year that the design of the medal was changed. As the Olympics were held in Athens, where they were held as modern Olympics started in 1896, the design was completely changed and approved for future years.

Commemorating Achievement

While the look and color of the medals have changed, the symbol remains the same. As competitors fight for victory and spectators hang on the edge of their seats, the title that comes with each medal is still as brilliant as the first Olympic competition.

A lot of work goes into designing these medals so they can reflect the spirit of the Olympics as well as some local flavor. These medals are meant to recognize and commemorate some amazing athletic triumphs, and at SymbolArts we were proud to have some part in that. Special event licensing, like for the Olympic Games, has been a great opportunity for us to provide some quality products, and we have made significant contributions to help commemorate events like the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Most of us will never have an opportunity to compete for a real gold medal, but there are a lot of other ways to commemorate this sporting event, which includes everything from nameplates, special pins, rings, and other accessories that are tied to the Olympics.

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