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Heavy Medal

It is round and has a hole in the middle. What is it? A donut? A CD? A Lifesaver´┐Ż? Harry Whittington? No. It is the 2006 Olympic medal. This year’s award is a fairly drastic departure from all previous Olympic medals: for the first time ever, the medal has an empty space in the center. Apparently, this hole was created to visually represent the Italian Piazza. Also a first ever: this medal is wrapped up in its ribbon, and unlike all previous Olympic games, it is not sewn to its top. According to the 2006 Torino Games website: “the front of the medal will include the graphic elements of the Games, while the back of the medal will feature a pictogram of the sports discipline in which the medal was won. To highlight the three-dimensional characteristics of the medal, its surface has been carefully made using full and empty spaces, with shiny and satiny textures.” This is what the 2006 Olympic medal looks like.

Ottaviani International and the Torino graphic team, headed by Dario Quatrini, created this year’s medal. Quatrini gathered images and ideas from Italian history and its tradition of forms, including rings, ancient coins and ornaments. The design of the empty circle incorporates the themes and motifs of the Torino Games and embodies the leitmotiv of Torino 2006 — the Piazza. More about the open space at its center: it reveals the place where the heart beats, the symbol of life itself. The medal is only “complete,” however, when it is hanging geometrically from the athlete’s neck, lying on its chest, circling and revealing the area near the heart, and focusing attention on the athlete’s energy and emotions. Essentially this year’s medal is the first multi-dimensional “experiential” medal in history.

Some Facts and History About the Olympic Medal

• Olympic medals since 1928 have featured the same design on the front: a Greek goddess, the Olympic Rings, the coliseum of ancient Athens, a Greek vase known as an amphora, a horse-drawn chariot, and the year, number of the Olympiad, and host city. Additionally, each host city is allowed to add special details to the design. Also, each host city is allowed to design the reverse of the medal.

• During the ancient Olympics, no medals were awarded. The first-place winner was given an olive wreath to wear on his head; second- and third-place winners received nothing.

• When the Modern Olympics were revived in 1896, first-place winners received silver medals. At the time, gold was considered inferior to silver. Eight years later, at the 1904 Games in St. Louis, gold replaced silver for first place.

• Today’s “gold” medals are actually sterling silver covered with a thin coat (.21 ounces) of pure gold.

• Olympic medals are approximately 2 inches in diameter.

• In Paris, during the 1900 Olympics, rectangular medals were awarded to the winners in some events but not in others. The medals refer to the Universal Paris Exhibition to which the Games were associated but, oddly, do not mention a word about the Olympics.

• In London, in 1908, the Olympics were organized in a manner that is familiar today, including the formal presentation of medals and diplomas soon after the conclusion of an event.

• The International Olympic Committee now spells out a very specific protocol to be followed at medal ceremonies. The IOC also specifies the dimensions and materials for the medals. The host country’s organizing committee designs and furnishes medals, but the IOC must approve the design.

• Athletes placing fourth through eighth in an event receive diplomas.

So what do you think of this revolutionary new Olympic medal?

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ARCHIVE ID 2544 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Feb.17.2006 BY debbie millman
Randy’s comment is:

I'm not fond of the typography on the ribbon, but other-wise I think it's elegant.

The wrapped ribbon seems like a "pure" solution, avoiding the need for additional engineering, and the hole is a nice deviation from the traditional form that uses less raw material.

I'd love to see the reverse.

On Feb.17.2006 at 02:24 PM
Dani Nordin’s comment is:

Yes, I really like it as well. The type on the ribbon isn't my thing, but it suits the game well.

Sorry I don't have anything more profound to say than this.

On Feb.17.2006 at 03:12 PM
Meryl’s comment is:

I know that everone was so suprised by this design... Why? Because puncing a hole for the ribon to thread through is *gasp* logical? I think they are lovely, but the personal connotations they give me are: a subway token, a doughnut, a victory wreath (like those Greek godesses on top of bowling trophies are holding) and the Olympic rings. (Sorry, piazza is not on that list.) So I'd say for the most part, those all all good connections.

Kudos to the designers for 'breaking the mold' on this one!

On Feb.17.2006 at 03:48 PM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

I think it is just SO VERY elegant!

On Feb.17.2006 at 03:55 PM
Doug Fuller’s comment is:

I've always seen it as a giant washer, which in my book isn't so bad since I really like washers. I think it's very distinctive.

On Feb.17.2006 at 05:08 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Its reference to the Olympic rings is a stroke of genius. I love the form. Like good, modern industrial design — its revolutionary form is grounded in heritage and shaped by function. A masterful job.

My only gripe is the ribbon. It seems so expected. The ribbon could'be been made out of metal or a high-tech polymer to complement the modernity of the "torino 2006" logotype.

On Feb.17.2006 at 05:13 PM
r agrayspace’s comment is:

I hadn't payed them much attention until reading this.

And now I am awe. What a wonderful solution. And they are not bogged down in too many unnecessary modern flourishes that would risk it feeling dated in 10 years. Bold, supple, simple.


I demand to see the backside.

On Feb.17.2006 at 05:39 PM
Jeremy’s comment is:

I'm actually a little surprised that so many people like the medal so much.

It seemed like a bit of a joke to me, even the athletes were referring to it as the 'donut' on tv.

The rationalization of symbolizing the piazza, framing the olympian's heartbeat, seem a little weak.

If in another life I were to have any athletic ability, this is what I would want my medal to look like (from the 2004 Athens games)

On Feb.17.2006 at 07:14 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Olympic medals are approximately 2 inches in diameter.

I'm thinking that doesn't apply this time round. I was just watching some Olympics this evening and the 'donuts' are more like 5 or 6 inches in diameter. Whatever the size, I love 'em.

On Feb.17.2006 at 07:20 PM
Steve’s comment is:

They are definitely my favorite in my 19 years of living. They are distinctive. A disc is fine and all, but a disc with a hole in it; that's something else.

On Feb.17.2006 at 09:13 PM
Robert’s comment is:

I like the Torino medals very much when seen alone, but when awarded to the athletes, the seem a bit big and bulky hanging from their neck. Personally i think they would have been better being smaller. 3-4 inches.

On Feb.18.2006 at 08:37 AM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

This medal also reminds me of a doughnut, Debbie, and this is the last thing athletes are eating during training and performance. I can't help but wonder why said risk (or experimentation) has taken place for this particular Winter Olympics in 2006? Why not in 2000 or 2002—to symbolize the new millennium?

On Feb.18.2006 at 09:38 AM
Ryan.m.’s comment is:

I can't help but wonder why said risk (or experimentation) has taken place for this particular Winter Olympics in 2006? Why not in 2000 or 2002—to symbolize the new millennium?

Each organizing committee choose what they want to highlight or symbolize with their look and medals. Sydney in 2000 wanted to create a very friendly, athlete-centered games, but also showcase Australian fun and sun; their look was very lighthearted, but they were bound by tradition with their medals. (The front of the summer games medals was the same from 1928 to 2004, when the IOC changed it to reflect Greek origins instead of a Roman coliseum, thus the medal in the comments above.) Salt Lake in 2002 meanwhile wanted to emphasize the triumph of competition; their slogan 'Light the Fire Within' was used for everything, including their very distinctive (and hyooge) medals.

Torino looks like they really wanted to take on the modernistic, high-fashion traits that Italian design is known for, and I think they've pulled it off marvelously. The overall look of the venues, the banners, the medals, and even the reconception of the torch all betray an almost abstract notion of Italy and the Olympics; the only point at which the whole thing falls down is with the mascots. I think the trend from Salt Lake through Athens and now Torino has been to present themselves and the games through a very clean, contemporary and vibrant look that doesn't look contrived or even stereotypical. Unfortunately, I fear that Beijing in 2008 may not keep this up.

On Feb.18.2006 at 05:05 PM
Matt’s comment is:

I find them quite elegant and modern, in keeping with the rest of the identity of these olympics (exluding the opening ceremony, which was as cheap and gaudy as they come, and thoroughly lacking in a well-executed unifying theme). I must confess though, my first thought upon seeing them was to wonder how many MB they hold. Is that a cd or a dvd? ;)

On Feb.19.2006 at 04:32 PM
fletcher’s comment is:

From hearing the description before seeing them, I was disappointed at the photo. I somehow expected the hole in the middle to be square.

On Feb.19.2006 at 08:04 PM
gregor’s comment is:

I think the medal itself is a masterful work. subtle yet bold, fluid and the embodiment of motion. I'll concur with Tan on the ribbon, but not for the fabric, rather the typography whihch seems to reverse, or even negate, the elegance of the medal.

On Feb.19.2006 at 09:17 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Well I'll add my vote of confidence to this as well. I, uh ... don't watch the Olympics, but I did see one of these in the paper the other day and liked it. It's chunky and serious.

I also really like the ribbon and have no problem at all with the typography. What's wrong with it? It looks well spaced, well placed, contemporary ...

On Feb.20.2006 at 04:13 AM
gregor’s comment is:

marian: for me that's exactly the disconnect: contemporary. the leading and placement is fine and while I realize this treatment is not limited to the medal ribbon alone, the contemporariness is a distraction from the classic elegance of the medal.

just MHO :))

On Feb.20.2006 at 01:45 PM
Robin’s comment is:

I'm with Robert on this one... I greatly admire the sophisticated forms, the unconventional shape and textures. They're very elegant. But... while they look austere on their own, they're border on absurd when you see them in context - actually around the neck of the athletes themselves.

On Feb.20.2006 at 07:52 PM
jo’s comment is:

Yes, I love them. The hole in the center? Stroke of genius. Threading the ribbon through said hole? Again, stroke of genius.

But I'm afraid I'm going to make a departure here. My feeling is that the design, though the form may be historical in many ways, it feels too modern to me. I don't get a sense of the grand history of the games. Yes, it is elegant. Yes, it is simple, but I really miss the "ancient" feeling of the games that's captured in more stodgy, predictable, and ugly designs.

On Feb.21.2006 at 11:05 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Robin's link to the photo is very interesting and revealing. So much for "lying on its chest, circling and revealing the area near the heart"...geez, it's lying closer to the navel.

I highly admire the courage to try something different. But, at least in photos, the medals seem to work best close up. The elegance does not read as well from a distance.

I'd be curious as to how the althletes themselves react to the design. I'm guessing that they're just thrilled to have an Olympic medal. But does deviating from tradition add an extra luster to the medals? Or does the change from tradition take any luster off?

On Feb.21.2006 at 01:11 PM
Kim’s comment is:

Unfortunately, I fear that Beijing in 2008 may not keep this up.
Beijing is looking for a personal design for their medals, check out BOCOG Calls for Design Proposals for Olympic Medals. The site also has a PDF of all of the past medals, front and back.
My favorite part of the 2006 medals is how the ribbon is wrapped around the medal. I also think an event like the Olympics deserves to have something heavier and less like a coin like it has been.

Here's a gallery that shows the reverse.

On Feb.21.2006 at 03:04 PM
Von K’s comment is:

I really like them. I actually think they work fine when worn by the athletes, even though they don't lay directly over most of thier hearts.

They look sizeable and weighty, not overly big and akward. That makes sense to me because winning one is very hard to do. Those that win deserve something bold and timeless, not derivitave or a literal interpretation of a coin. It's worth more than money.

On Feb.22.2006 at 11:09 AM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Jason, you might want to check out the winter olympic medal from 1992 in Albertville - it's glass set with gold, silver or bronze. www.olympic.org/uk/passion/collectors/object/index_uk.asp?ObjId=153

The Torino 2006 medals remind me of a pineapple slice.

On Feb.22.2006 at 01:25 PM
Simon B’s comment is:

I love them. I love the concept of when hung around the athletes neck their heart completes the medal. Brilliant.

Maybe athletes that come 4th - 8th should get the "hole" as a commemorative coin or something?

On Feb.23.2006 at 02:04 AM
speedoflight’s comment is:

The Torino Games' medal design is a complete joke. It may have its basis on the Piazza, etc. etc, heart of the athlete but when you look at it, the first thing everyone I've talked to say, is "it looks like a freaking DVD/CD". So, functionality wise, it's a complete failure no matter what the design may be based on. This particular URL pretty much sums the medal design up:


On Feb.23.2006 at 07:54 PM
paco’s comment is:

I think the new medals are terrible! It's like the wheel, ie; didn't need redesigning. They look like cheap CDs. Much prefer the traditional, feel sorry for the athletes this year. how could the IOC approve this?

On Feb.26.2006 at 01:50 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> So, functionality wise, it's a complete failure no matter what the design may be based on.

"Functionality wise" it's a failure? Really? The only functionality it must fulfill is to hang around a neck. And these medals seem to do that pretty well.

On Feb.26.2006 at 02:34 PM
Michael Thao’s comment is:

I think it's brilliant. It's different, memorable, simple, contemporary. A huge step forward from others I've seen thus far.

On Mar.01.2006 at 11:10 AM
mackenzie’s comment is:

i personally think that the design and looks of the medal only contribute 30% of the importance of it to the athletes. They're just so damn ecstatic to be in a foreign country (who wouldnt love to go to italy, greece etc.?), doing what they love, representing their country and meeting new people ... never mind on the podeum, fulfilling their dreams, and have the feeling of "i did it."

On Mar.05.2006 at 09:03 PM