London 2012 design icons – the Olympic medals

The Olympic values, as set out by founder of the Modern Olympic Movement Pierre de Coubertin, are respect, excellence and friendship, but we all know it’s really about winning medals.

The Olympic medals

Source: Locog

The Olympic medals

The medals, are the prize and the glory, the tangible memento, and as such, the ultimate Olympic design icon.

The London 2012 Olympic medals have been designed by artist David Watkins come through a six-way Locog tender with his design which casts the Wolff Olins Olympics logo with a set of other symbols.

These is the slightly concave background – ‘a bowl similar to the design of an amphitheatre’ according to Locog, a grid of lines to symbolise drawing together and outreach, and the River Thames, a symbol of London and interestingly a ‘fluttering baroque ribbon’ says Locog.

The embossed logo meanwhile is ‘a tough crystalline growth’ or ‘an architectural expression’ Locog says.

Close-up of the Olympics gold medal design

Source: Locog

Close-up of the Olympics gold medal design

 For every games the obverse side of the medal depicts Nike, The Greek Goddess of Victory, stepping out from the Panathenaic stadium in Athens, home to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, to arrive in the host city. 

Olympic gold medal reverse

Source: locog

Olympic gold medal reverse

The Paralympic medals, meawhile, are designed by jewellery designer Lin Cheung who has used the reverse canvas as a representation of forward flight, power and lightness.

Her design is a close-up of Nike’s outstretched wing, and, cleverly, to give it godly kudos, the form has been taken directly from a cast of the British Museum’s  Nike of Paionios.

Sir John Sorrell, who was at the unveiling of the medals back in September 2011, said ‘To take a cast from a statue in the museum – all designers would like that. It’s extraordinary design-thinking which shows a different relationship with the fabric and it will inspire athletes in the run-up.’

Close-up of the Paralympics gold medal design

Source: Locog

Close-up of the Paralympics gold medal design

The step from design to manufacture of the medals is overseen by The Royal Mint chief engraver Gordon Summer, who says that new striking processes were developed for the project.

‘With both medals, the depth of relief that’s required on the obverse and reverse sides required a new technology, new press and new techniques,’ says Summer.

A standard process sees a blank disc squeezed ‘often sending material into areas where you don’t want it’ says Summer who adds ‘the striking process removes this material.’

Summer says the Royal Mint created a process that ensures after the disc has been struck it weighs the same as it did to begin with, so that no material needs to be removed. 

David Watkins supplied 3D CAD models of his reverse side to The Royal Mint based on parameters it gave him, according to Summer who says ‘he also designed a layout for the obverse side, which we turned into computer models.’

The Paralympic medals

Source: Locog

The Paralympic medals

For Lin Cheung’s Paralympics design the mint used the moulding from Nike’s wing and ‘extracted the texture’ before creating this digitally, while the obverse side was developed by the mint directly from a piece of artwork says Summer.

Summer confirms that the obverse side of the medals have to depict Nike and the Panathenaic stadium.

‘I believe until the Australian Games [2000] it showed Nike and the Colosseum in Rome but since that was pointed out it became prescriptive that you have to use Nike, the Panathenaic stadium, and skyline of Athens.’

Hide Comments (7)Show Comments (7)
  • Sarah November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Also have a look at the Crafts Council’s latest online exhibition to see jewellery by medal designers David Watkins and Lin Cheung

  • beauny denny fernandez.x November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am


  • Charlie November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    All right, very nice o/

  • jose November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    how truth is it that those symbols of the olympic games in london are inspired by the symbolism of the masonic and the iluminati orders?

  • Mickey November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Clever ambush marketing by Nike?

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  • hailey hardin November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

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