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OLYMPIC MUSEUM: Designing medals

January 11, 2013



Medals are an important part of the Olympics and are always a big attraction for visitors at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum where there are several prize medals on display along with a complete collection of participation medals.

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The medals are unique to each Olympic Games, where the design of the medals is left to the creativity of the Organizing Committee with the International Olympic Committee having the final design approval. However, the Winter Games have always enjoyed total freedom regarding the design of the medals and no restrictions have been imposed. This provides a chance for each host country to express its cultural identity through the choice of design style and materials used.

The awarding of medals all started with the Summer Games when at the first Olympic Games of the modern era in Athens, in 1896, the event winner was crowned with an olive wreath and received a silver medal. Then, at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, the first gold medals were given to the winners of each event. The design of these medals featured Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian gods; Nike, the Greek goddess that personified victory; and also a champion with a laurel wreath crown. This was also the first time that the medal was attached to a colored ribbon with a pin to fix it to the winners' chest.

It was not until 1960 in Rome, that the medals were placed around the winners' necks. When this change took place, a laurel leaf chain was designed for that purpose. Today, a colored ribbon is now attached to the precious medal to hang around the neck.

During the Lake Placid Holiday Village Stroll that was held Dec. 7-9, the museum invited young "medalists" to come to the museum and design their own medal ornaments inspired by the design of the Olympic medals on Friday evening and Saturday and Sunday morning. During the three days, about 100 children visited the museum to make their own "medals" that could be worn around their necks or they could be used as pins or ornaments.

The children used metallic markers, stamps and/or stickers to design their medal and then it was magically turned into a pin medallion and then finished off with a ribbon of their choice. Some of the kids designed medals to be given as Christmas gifts, while others created Olympic medals to have as souvenirs of their visit to Lake Placid. While the kids had fun making medals, their families were able to see the artifacts and exhibits in the museum. Participants came from the Albany area, Western New York, New Jersey, New England and Canada, as well as from our own Olympic region. This was the second youth oriented program the museum has sponsored this year and there are more ideas for next year.

If you would like to see examples of the ornament medals designed by children, staff members and volunteers, they will be hanging on a small Christmas tree at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum in the Olympic Center. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Ironman Sunday.

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