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REAL OLYMPIC HEROES | HOW ARE OLYMPIC MEDALS MADE?

REAL OLYMPIC HEROES | HOW ARE OLYMPIC MEDALS MADE?

Over the summer we've learnt how Olympic champions are made, but it made us wonder just how are Olympic medals made?

 

Every four years the Olympics and Paralympics come around and we're wowed by the herculean efforts of the competing athletes and caught up in emotion when the winning athletes receive their medals as the national anthems play.

Watching Jason Kenny and Laura Trott win a houseful of gold medals between them got us thinking, how are Olympic medals made and what are they actually made of?

The Olympic regulations state the specific composition and design of Olympic medals is determined by the host city's organizing committee.  

For the Rio Olympics and Paralympics, the process of creating their medals involved a team of about 100 people, including sculptors and machine operators, working in secret for two years inside the Casa da Moeda do Brasil (the Brazilian Mint) to produce the 5,132 medals required.

We'll never know how they all kept the design a secret for such a long time, but we have uncovered the amazing secrets behind how the medals are made.  

Darby Journal How Are Olympic Medals Made

Nelson Neto Carneiro, a sculptor at the Brazilian Mint for 41 years, created the design for the back of the 2016 medals.  Carneiro created the moulds by hand with precision tools over two weeks as he believes this gave him more control over the design.

His design for the Olympic medals features laurel leaves, a symbol of victory in ancient Greece, in the form of the wreaths awarded to competition winners, surrounding the Rio 2016 Olympic logo.  

Nelson's design for the Paralympic medals show the seeds of courage, persistence and development of the athletes.  In the case of the Olympic medal, the requirement since 2004 is that the front of the medals (known as the obverse) features an image of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory with the Panathinaiko Stadium and the Acropolis in the background.

Darby Journal How Are Olympic Medals Made

Rio 2016's medals are the largest ever awarded at the modern games, measuring 85mm in diameter.  For the first time ever the medals are dome shaped so their thickness varies between 6mm at the edge and 11mm at the centre.

Each medal weighs 500g.  The Rio gold medals are made of 494 grams of 92.5% purity silver coated with 6 grams of 99.9% purity gold.  The silver medals are made from 500g of 92.5% purity silver whilst the bronze medals are made from 500g of a bronze alloy which is 95% copper and 5% zinc.

Consistent with the rest of the games, the Rio Olympics featured eco-friendly metals. The gold metal used in the gold medals was free of mercury contamination and the sterling silver used for the silver medals was partly recycled (about 30% by mass) from mirrors and x-ray plates. 

Medals are made by the same two step process used to make coins, moulding blanks then minting them with the required design.  The hand-sculpted moulds were scanned into a computer, which etched a metallic mould and then a metallic stamping die using specialised software.

Darby Journal How Are Olympic Medals Made

The alloys for each medal are melted at a temperature of over 1000 degrees centigrade.  The alloys are cooled and set into rectangular plates, out of which the disc shaped blanks are cut.  

At this stage the discs were compressed slightly to create their dome shape, before being machined to make them the uniform size and weight set for the Olympic and Paralympic medals.

The metal dies are pressed against the blank with 550 tons of force.  This is repeated three times to ensure the image transferred to the disc is 100% accurate. The third coining is accompanied by a matte / polished finish to highlight the reliefs of artwork. 

 

Darby Journal How Are Olympic Medals Made

After minting the edges are smoothed and a cavity is made in the medal to insert the spring pin through which the medal tape is attached.  The rim of each medal is then laser engraved with the identification of the category (male/female) and the sports discipline.  

Gold medals are then coated with gold by placing them in a 'gold bath', then all the medals are given a layer of varnish to protect their surface against oxidation.

We salute the 100 Olympic heroes of the Brazilian Mint, without whose tireless dedication the Olympic experience wouldn't quite be the same.

POSTSCRIPT

Darby Journal How Are Olympic Medals Made
The best fact we uncovered was that for the first time ever, a resonance box containing steel spheres has been crafted into each Paralympic medal.  The bronze medal contains 16 spheres, the silver medal has 24 spheres and the gold contains 28 spheres. 

When the medal is shaken, this device emits a sound that allows visual impaired athletes to hear the difference between gold (the loudest), silver and bronze (the quietest).  Another example of the simplest ideas being the most powerful.

 

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