What are Olympic medals made of?

Tokyo 2020: Ahead of the 2021 edition of the postponed Summer Games in the Japanese capital, here's a look at the process behind making Olympic medals.

Three medals are up for grabs at the quadrennial event- gold, silver and bronze, but have you wondered what goes into making them?   -  GETTY IMAGES

Ace athletes around the world dedicate years of their life towards one goal - a place on an Olympic podium. Getting the medal placed around one's neck signifies the fruition of Herculean efforts and sacrifices.

Three medals are up for grabs at the quadrennial event- gold, silver and bronze, but have you wondered what goes into making them?

Take the Olympic gold medal for instance - one of the most prestigious achievements in sports. Are they really made of gold? The answer is no. Olympic gold medals are not made of pure gold now. They are just plated with it. In fact, the last time pure gold medals were used, dates back to the 1912 Stockholm Games. 

What are medals made of?

Current guidelines prescribed by the International Olympics Committee (IOC) say that gold medals should contain a minimum of 6 grams of gold. What forms the bulk of the medal is actually silver. 

How big should medals be?

According to the IOC, medals should be at least 60mm in diameter and 3mm thick.

Design guidelines:

The IOC stipulates that Olympic medals should have:

  • Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, in front of the Panathinaikos Stadium
  • The official name of the respective Games, in this case, Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020
  • The Olympic five rings symbol


What makes the medals of the Tokyo Olympics unique?

Japan's penchant for technological finesse is something the nation and the organisers have tried to extend to this part of the Games too. For the Tokyo Olympics, medals have been made from recycled electronic gadgets - a nod to its commitment to be eco-friendly and the country's technological advancement. Citizens have personally donated their gadgets for this purpose, to encourage a sense of participation and direct association with the Games.

Tokyo Olympics- Design of the medals 

Organisers allowed the public to choose the design by conducting a competition open to designers- professionals and students. The competitions attracted over 400 entries.  According to the Tokyo 2020 organisers, “The medals resemble rough stones that have been polished and now shine, with “light” and “brilliance” their overall themes. The medals collect and reflect myriad patterns of light, symbolising the energy of the athletes and those who support them. Their design is intended to symbolise diversity and represent a world where people who compete in sports and work hard are honoured. The brilliance of the medals signifies the warm glow of friendship symbolising people all over the world holding hands.”|


Victory Medal Ribbon Design

Traditional Japanese culture will be highlighted in the ribbon - an amalgamation of the traditional Japanese design motifs found in ichimatsu moyo (harmonised chequered patterns) and kasane no irome (traditional kimono layering techniques). The ribbon is designed to be a reflection of Japan itself and of the way the country demonstrates “Unity in Diversity”. The design also promotes the Tokyo 2020 brand vision of “Innovation from Harmony”.

Silicone convex lines have been used on the surface of the ribbon so that anyone can recognise the type of medal (gold, silver or bronze) by simply touching it. Chemically recycled polyester fibres that produce less CO2 during their manufacturing process have also been used - allowing the ribbons to incorporate the Games' core colour scheme and have more durability.

Know your Tokyo Olympics medal

ThicknessThinnest part: 7.7mm
Thickest part: 12.1mm
WeightGold: about 556g
Silver: about 550g
Bronze: about 450g
CompositionGold: more than 6 grams of gold plating on pure silver
Silver: pure silver
Bronze: red brass (95% copper and 5% zinc)
RibbonsAttached to the top of medals
Side of MedalThe name of the event will be engraved in English
Designer of the medalJunichi Kawanishi
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