Paris 2024 Medals: Beyond the symbol of excellence

At the end of July, the world’s best athletes will gather in Paris, and those who succeed in distinguishing themselves among the elite will proudly display the symbol of sporting excellence on their chests: Gold, silver and bronze medals. These Paris medals have a rich history.

The medals that will adorn the chests of the world’s best athletes were recently unveiled. They represent the pinnacle of sporting achievement. From the two medals awarded to the winner and runner-up (silver and bronze, as there was no gold at the time) at the first modern Games in Athens in 1896, to the three medals and five diplomas awarded today as symbols of sporting excellence. 

These Olympic Games will have the unique distinction of incorporating into the medals a representative part of Paris, France and Europe, as some of the most important symbols will be embedded in each medal won by the athletes. 

French designer Chaumet, whose parent company LVMH has signed a major contract with the organisation, was tasked with showcasing the grandeur that French officials expect their country to display at these Summer Games. 

The iconic jeweller embedded a fragment of steel from the Eiffel Tower to meet the objectives of honouring the sacrifices of the athletes and the greatness of Paris, represented by its ultimate symbol, the Eiffel Tower. At the request of the Organising Committee, France’s most famous jewellery house has incorporated a piece of the Tower to give the medal its splendour and grandeur. 

The hexagonal medal with the emblem of Paris and France will be worn with pride, or at least that is the intention of the Organising Committee, which wanted a design with an emblem that represented Paris and France. Thus the idea was born that the deserving recipient of a medal should be able to wear a piece of French greatness, symbolised by the Eiffel Tower. 

Each medal will be adorned with this hexagonal piece of iron from France’s most iconic symbol, and all those who take the podium in Paris will take with them an authentic piece of history. According to a press release, “certain metallic elements” were removed from the monument during renovations in the 20th century and “have since been carefully preserved”. The distinctive dark brown paint that currently adorns the Eiffel Tower was then removed and the pieces cut into hexagons before being engraved with the Paris 2024 logo.

France wants its third Olympic Games to go down in history as the best, or at least better than London 2012. From a very special ceremony outside a closed venue for the first time, to a boat ride on the athletes’ opening day to create a dynamic and unique opening day in history, including events in French Polynesia to showcase not only its beauty but also the greatness of the nation.

The first medals awarded were silver and bronze for the first and second place in Athens in 1896. IOC

Of course, France could not be left behind when it came to the creation of medals, which has become increasingly important to the various organisers of the Olympic Games in recent years. From the simple medals awarded at the beginning (silver and bronze/copper in Atlanta in 1896), to the first Olympic Games without medals were awarded (Paris in 1900), to a part of each Olympic and Paralympic Games today. It has taken a long time. If we check the history books, we find that the first specially commissioned medals were awarded in Amsterdam in 1928, and this lasted for 44 years. 

The Munich 1972 medals replaced the traditional ones after 44 years. IOC

The first specially designed medals featured the traditional goddess of victory on the obverse, holding a crown in one hand and a palm branch in the other. The reverse showed a victorious Olympic champion being carried by the crowd.

It took many years until Munich 1972 to replace it. It could be said that it was the defining moment in the current importance of medals. Without Munich, what followed would not have been the same.

The designers changed the reverse of the medals to include a different design created by an artist of the Bauhaus movement. They managed to depict Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus and Leda.

Another important moment in history was Seoul 1988. Here, in the spirit of the Olympic Games, a symbol of peace and unity was created. It was a simple image, but no less important because it sent a message of peace to the world. The reverse of the South Korean medals was engraved with the image of a dove holding a laurel leaf in its beak – an enduring emblem of the Games. 

In 2004, the Games returned to Athens for the first time in 108 years, and they had to be celebrated in style. For the first time since the Amsterdam Games in 1928, a significant change was made to the medals. 

Instead of the seated goddess Nike holding an ear of corn, the Athens 2004 medals showed her flying into the stadium to bring victory to the best athletes. The first Olympic Games to be held in the giant country of China had their own peculiarity; they incorporated the Chinese symbol: Jade (an ancient precious stone).

In addition to the traditional gold, silver and bronze, a dragon design was engraved on the reverse of each medal. The design of the medal was chosen to symbolise nobility, virtue, ethics and honour. 

Japan, on the other hand, did not want to be left behind in the symbolism of the medals and placed sustainability at the heart of the medal project. While Junichi Kawanishi’s designs used beautiful light-reflecting patterns to symbolise the energy of the athletes at the Games, the materials used to create the medals for the recent Games in Japan made it an even more ambitious undertaking.

The Tokyo 2020 Medal Project will recycle a total of 78,985 tonnes of discarded electronic equipment, from which 30.3kg of gold, 4,100kg of silver and 2,700kg of bronze will be extracted and reused to create the medals, demonstrating that the Games are much more than a sporting event, but can also be used to raise awareness and set a social example.

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