What to know about the history of Winter Olympic medals

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What to know about the history of Winter Olympics medals originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Thousands of athletes compete in Beijing, all in pursuit of an elusive gold medal. Familiar names like Shaun White and Mikaela Shiffrin hope to add to their collection and defend their gold medals. Meanwhile, the magic of the Olympics means there are bound to be inspiring comebacks and stars emerging on the podium.

Olympic medals are one of the many ways host cities distinguish themselves, often adorned with culturally and historically significant elements. The Beijing medals, released last October, are no different.

Here’s a look at the history of Olympic medals, what the Beijing committee has in store for upcoming Olympic medals, and where the iconic gear ends up on the road.

What will the Beijing 2022 medals look like?

The medals will bear the name “Tong Xin”, which means “together as one” in Chinese. The design, based on concentric circle pendants in ancient Chinese jade, will consist of five rings, inspired by the Olympic rings. The five rings represent the unifying spirit of the Olympics.

The central ring will feature the Olympic logo, followed by a different element in each surrounding ring. In the ring closest to the centerpiece is the inscription “XXIV Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022”. The next two rings are engraved with snow and cloud designs and the outermost ring is blank.

The 2022 medals are designed to resemble the jaïd-encrusted medals from the 2008 Summer Olympics, a reminder that Beijing is the first “double Olympic city” to host both the Summer and Winter Games. Both medals also incorporate red – one of the country’s national colors, believed to bring good luck for the new year – into their medal ribbons.

All Olympic Medals Ever Made

Data and images: CIO
Nina Lin and Andrew V. Pestano/NBC

Who designs the Olympic medals?

Olympic medals are designed by the host city’s committee, usually featuring historical and cultural elements specific to that city.

The 2022 design team was led by chief designer Hang Hai, who also contributed to the 2008 Summer Olympics medals.

How much are Olympic medals worth?

Everything has a price and Olympic medals are no exception.

Invaluable to many, CNBC recently calculated the value of every Olympic medal and it’s likely far less than you’d expect. A gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics is estimated at $820, which is $265 more than first place in PyeongChang.

Where do athletes store their Olympic medals?

Olympians store their medals everywhere, from bank vaults to under their pillows. Meanwhile, others choose to auction off their medals for big bucks.

Shiffrin told NBC that she stores her medals in her sock drawer. Meanwhile, Christie Pearce (formerly Rampone) hides her three Olympic medals in pots and pans in her kitchen. And if you’re Michael Phelps and you have a record 28 Olympic medals, one or two of them might get lost in the shuffle.

From time to time, medals earned in historical circumstances come onto the open market. In 2013, one of Jesse Owens’ iconic Berlin gold medals won ahead of Adolf Hitler sold for a record $1.47 million. In some cases, sales proceeds have gone to fund personal health care or humanitarian causes, as in the case of Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko, who sold his 1996 Olympic gold medal for $1 million to devote to supporting orphans in Ukraine.

What happens if a medal is stolen or lost?

There’s no shortage of crazy stories that involve Olympic medal misadventures and woes. Stolen in a home burglary? To verify. Lost in a house fire? Tragically, it happened. Did you accidentally send it to the dry cleaners? Ask Shaun White. Luckily for these athletes, they were finally able to collect their Olympic prize.

This may surprise some, but it’s actually a relatively common occurrence. In fact, the IOC estimates that it receives at least one or two requests for replica medals at every Olympics.

When an Olympic medal is lost or stolen, an investigation is usually launched to try to locate the missing item. However, if that fails, athletes can pay to have a medal replicated between $500 and $1,200. But there is a catch: the replacement medals are listed with the word “replica” in the corner.

Until the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, American athletes had Liberty Mutual insurance to cover the cost of replacing medals.

Who started the tradition of biting medals?

One of the sport’s most iconic photo ops probably began a century and a half ago to authenticate real gold during the California Gold Rush. Gold is a softer, more malleable metal that bends slightly under stress, or in this case, bite marks.

However, for Olympians – and photographers – it’s all about tradition. Pure gold medals haven’t been awarded at the Olympics since 1912, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of medalists from posing with their prizes between their teeth at every Olympics.

In rare cases, this idiotic tradition turns against us. In 2010, German luge player David Moeller bit into his silver medal, only to discover a chipped tooth later that night.

Who are the most decorated Winter Olympians?

Three athletes – all from Norway – have won at least 10 Winter Olympic medals.

Skier Marit Bjørgen, sometimes known as The Iron Lady, is the most decorated Winter Olympian with 15 medals to her name. Close behind her is her compatriot Ole Bjørndalen, who won 13 Olympic medals in men’s biathlon from 1994 to 2014. The Norwegian trio is completed by Bjørn Dæhlie, who won 12 medals in men’s skiing. The three competitors are also tied for the most gold medals at eight.

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