The design for the medals of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games highlights the relationship between the power of Olympic heroes and the power of natural forces. The medals use the form of the laurel leaf, an ancient symbol of victory, to connect the champions of the Olympic Games to the forces of the natural world. The designers have worked with organic, flowing lines to create the image on the reverse face. The varied textures of the medal’s relief are inspired by the energy and passion of Brazil.
In keeping with Olympic tradition, the front or obverse face of the medals bears the image of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, and two symbols of ancient and modern Greece, the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens and the Acropolis.
The Brazilian Mint has incorporated the principles of sustainable design into the production of the medals. The gold of the gold medal has been produced completely without the use of mercury. In the silver and bronze medals, 30 per cent of the material used is recycled.
In the ribbons for the medals, 50 per cent of the PET plastic comes from recycled sources. The medal cases, which are designed in the form of a stone, have been crafted only with freijo hardwood that has been certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council®). This guarantees that the wood used comes entirely from forests that are managed according to the highest standards of sustainability.
The story behind the medals goes all the way back to the Ancient Olympics, when only the winner of an event would receive a crown of laurel leaves as his prize. Legend has it that the leaves were taken from a sacred grove, near the temple of Zeus, in Olympia.
At the first Olympics of the modern era, the Athens 1896 Games, winners were awarded a silver medal and a diploma in addition to the crown. The St. Louis 1904 Games were the first in which gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to athletes in the top three positions.
The St. Louis 1904 Olympics also saw the medals being fitted with a colourful ribbon to be pinned on the athletes’ chests. It was only in the Rome 1960 Games that they were changed to be hung around the winners’ necks.