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From Mundane to Meteoric: Olympic Medals Through the Years

 U.S.  bobsledder Steven Holcomb’s Vancouver Olympics gold. [Harry How/Getty Images]
By Ryan Howe | BSU at the Games

Placing in the Olympic Games is big. Really big.

The winners walk away with their heads held high and a medal draped around their necks.

Unfortunately, many of the medal designs aren’t something to put in a glass case for everyone to see, much less wear around.
1924 – Chamonix, France

Bonjour. Welcome to the first Winter Olympics. Today’s event is military patrol: The fastest athletes to ski down the mountain while shooting a rifle walk away with national pride and a gold medal.

Don’t get too excited. You won’t want to wear this necklace to dinner parties. On the front, a man stands rigid in front of Mont Blanc in France, clutching skis in one hand and figure skates in the other. On the reverse side, 14 lines inform the winners of the dates and location of the Games. Not even a “Congratulations! You’re the fastest trigger-happy skier in the world!”

1928 – St. Moritz, Switzerland

On the next medal of the Winter Olympic Games, a woman figure skater stands, arms spread, with six snowflakes falling around her. Overall, it’s the same as Chamonix but with boobs. It won’t get better for years.

1992 – Albertville, France

France, remember the (low) bar you set back in 1924? Well, you have redeemed yourself. Not only is the design beautiful with contrasting colors of sliver, gold and a dark brown, but it’s made of glass. It takes 35 people to complete each medal, and that attention to detail shines through. You set the bar again, but this time it gives future Winter Games a bit of a challenge.

1994 – Lillehammer, Norway

At first glance, the medal looks sloppy, like an unfinished project. Then it looks beautiful. The angled rings, granite background and bronze, silver or gold outline are lovely, but the reverse side is what stands out. On the back, simplistic renditions of the sports look like something out of a Tim Burton claymation movie. Haunting. Creative. Sorry, France.

2002 – Salt Lake City

Are we sure Burton doesn’t just design these things? On the front, a man is emerging from what looks like a mountain holding the Olympic torch. Maybe he got lost on the way down the mountain and the torch was his only source of heat for days? Regardless, it looks cool. The main appeal of this medal, though, is that 16 different artists make the reverse side, representing the 16 Olympic sports.

2006 – Turin, Italy

Bravo, Turin. You design the most simplistic medal in years, and it blows every Winter Olympics medal before it out of the (frozen) water. Taking the form of a donut, the medal is the definition of simplistic. The front has the Turin Olympic logo at the bottom. The reverse features a custom pictogram of the sport for which the medal was won. The ribbon isn’t even attached; it is tied through the hole. You deserve one kiss on each cheek.

2010 – Vancouver

Following in the footsteps of Turin, Vancouver decides to make its medals simple. Almost too simple. They look as if they have been left on the dashboard in the sun and started to warp. But wait, every medal is warped in a different way. The shapes are different. The laser etching is different. Don’t judge a book by its cover, eh?

2014 – Sochi, Russia

This year’s medal breaks the trend of simplicity. With patchwork representing the different aspects of Russian culture, etchings on the rims and a peek-a-boo aspect incorporated, the medals are beautiful. A little shameless self-promotion with the host town’s website can be overlooked.

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Next: Michigan Olympians at the Sochi Winter Olympics

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