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15

The Modern Olympic Games

The rewards

The moment of victory is often symbolised by the athlete stepping onto the podium to receive his or her medal. Yet this ceremony has not always existed! The different elements of the ceremony entered Olympic history at different times.

THE SUMMER GAMES MEDALS In the beginning, Olympic medals varied from one Olympiad to the next. At the first mod- ern Games in Athens in 1896, winners were rewarded with an olive wreath and a silver medal, while the runners-up received a bronze medal and a laurel wreath. Gold, silver and bronze medals were not awarded until 1904.

From 1928 the medals were standardised. The obverse must show a figure of Victory hold- ing a wreath in one hand and a palm frond in the other. The reverse had to show a victori- ous athlete being borne upon the shoulders of the crowd.

Since 1972, only the obverse of the medal has remained the same. The reverse is modified for each Olympiad.

THE WINTER GAMES MEDALS The Winter Games medals are not subject to the same constraints. There are no rules stipulating a particular shape or design. Other materials may even be introduced along with the basic gold, silver and bronze: the medals of the Albertville Games (France) included a crystal disc; the Lillehammer (Norway) medals had a granite element, and the medals of the Nagano Games (Japan) were partially worked in lacquer. In fact, every Olympic Winter Games has seen an original medal design.

PRESENTATION OF THE MEDALS The medals ceremony takes place soon after the competitions.

The first eight in each event receive a diploma and their names are read out. Only the first three receive a medal.

Since the Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid in 1932 (USA), the medals have been awarded on a podium. The winner takes the centre spot, on the highest step. He or she receives a gold medal and the title of Olympic champion. The second placegetter is to the winner’s right and receives a silver medal. The third is to the winner’s left and receives a bronze medal.

The national flags of the three winners are hoisted in the stadium and the national anthem of the Olympic champion is played.

CELEBRITY OF OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS After the Olympic Games, a number of champions become superstars. They become role

models for many people.

However, a medal is not always a passport to fame. If it is won in a little-known or rarely televised event, a medal may not be enough to attract the interest of sponsors or the public.

Whether or not they are winners, everyone involved in the Games takes home with them the memory of an exceptional human experience.

© Olympic Museum and Studies Centre, Lausanne, 2002

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