With the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics opening on July 23, 2021, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at the history of the Olympic silver medal. These medals, synonymous with second place, have an interesting storied past. Of course, no olympian would say they’re competing for silver.
When Was the First Olympic Medal Given?
With the first recognized Olympic games held in 776 B.C. in Ancient Greece, it may not be a surprise to you that winning athletes did not receive medals. The first awards given to winning Olympians were olive wreaths rather than the medals we are accustomed to seeing now. Gold, silver, and bronze were much harder to come by in those days. These precious metals were believed to be too great a prize for the athletes.
Olympic medals are a rather recent phenomenon in the context of the lengthy Olympic games history. The first Olympic medals were awarded at the 1896 Olympic Games held in Athens, Greece, also known as the first modern Olympic games. First place Olympians were still given an olive branch, keeping the millennia-long tradition of the Olympic games; however, in addition, they now received a medal. Second and third place athletes received a laurel branch and a bronze or copper medal.
This Olympic medal wasn’t an immediate success, as the next Olympics, in 1900, received cups and trophies rather than the famed medals.
What Did the First Olympic Medal Look Like?
As we said above, no Olympian will admit that they’re competing for a silver medal, as it is synonymous with second place. This belief, however, was not always the case. With the introduction of awarding winning Olympians medals, first place received a silver medal, with second and third place being awarded bronze or copper medals.
The first Olympic medal in 1896 was a silver medal, given to all first-place Olympians, with the engraved face of Zeus on one side and an engraving of the acropolis on the other.
Gold, at this time, was still seen as too valuable a metal to be given to the athletes. The history behind the Olympic gold medal began in the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri. The 1904 St. Louis games marked the tradition's beginnings of giving the first place winner a gold medal, second place silver, and third place bronze.
The Olympic Silver Medal Today
While not as highly sought after as a gold medal, the silver medal has the longest history and is a prize that most Olympians would be proud of. Silver still retains some part in first place medals, as even current gold medals are primarily silver and only plated in gold. Gold-plated items allow the Olympic games to save some money in manufacturing medals; however, they are still high in sentimental and intrinsic value. At GoldFellow, we are well aware of the value of gold-plated items, and as industry-leading buyers of scrap gold and jewelry, gold-plated items can still be sold and valued at high prices.
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