From mines in the United States and Mongolia to the necks of the world’s most elite athletes, a display at the British Museum investigates the journey of the 4,700 Olympic medals to be handed out in London this summer.
Four gold medals designed for the London 2012 Games glisten on display in an exhibition which details the history of all the gold, silver and bronze medals using shavings, ancient medallions, and original moulds.
The gold medals for this summer’s Games will be the largest and most valuable ever to be handed out.
Weighing in at 400 grams and measuring 88 mm in diameter, the 1st place medal is also the most expensive yet. But it is only made up of 1.2% gold.
The nationwide search for designers was launched three years ago, and a panel eventually whittled the names down to goldsmiths, David Watkins who designed the Olympic medal, and Lin Cheung (the brains behind the Paralympic medal).
While the design on the front is dictated by tradition — Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory, has adorned medals since the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam — the back offers a blank canvas. Weaving the river Thames through the design, Watkins brings the medal up to date with a mixture of Greek mythology and images of London, achieving a lushly intricate feat of metal molding. But it wasn’t always plain sailing.
At the Royal Mint, last minute technical problems with the gold stamps meant that the image of Nike varies ever so slightly from its predecessor at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
“As I understand it, they had to reproduce the models for technical reasons...it was minor, just so the two sides of the medal worked with each other,” said Philip Attwood, curator of the collection.