2012 London Olympics: Medals? Take Them to The Tower

The ancient Tower of London is the home of all medals awarded at the 2012 London Olympics.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

You’ve got to give the 2012 London Olympics credit for doing the little things with style.

Sure, the entire event has run smoothly and safety – providing a surplus of memorable moments. But, the sexiness of the details is what sets these Olympics apart. The best example? When LOCOG (London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) had to pick a place to store the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals, they chose one of the oldest fortresses in the world – The Tower of London.

Rio Tinto, the mining company that forged the medals for the Olympics and Paralympic handed over the shiny dreams of athletes to LOCOG for secure storage in the ancients vaults at the Tower during the Games.

Actually, the vaults involved aren’t the stone dungeons with iron bars you see in movies. They’re top secret, high-tech lockdowns that are never seen by the outside world. I recently did a press-only sneak preview of the Tower of London’s new Crown Jewels exhibit, and the first lessons I learned were that there are absolutely no photography inside the vaults – and security staff answer absolutely no questions about storage or transport of the Crown Jewels or (of course) Olympic medals.

We do know the medals are held in a below ground vault that is secured with a unique barcoded seal. The vault can only be opened in the presence of a London 2012 official with a security clearance.

Rio Tinto provided eight tons of gold, silver and copper from its Kennecott Utah Copper mine in Salt Lake City and the Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia to forge the medals. The awards were actually made by the Royal Mint in South Wales.

About 100 artists were asked to submit designs for the Olympic and Paralympic Games medals. The winning designers of the Olympic Games medals were British artist David Watkins and Lin Cheung. Cheung drew up the Paralympic Games medals while a practicing Jewelry artist and senior lecturer in Jewelry Design at Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design, London.

If you take a good look at an Olympic medal, it’s reportedly a metaphor for the world. According to Watkins, “the front of the medal always depicts the same imagery at the summer Games – the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike, stepping out of the depiction of the Parthenon to arrive in the Host City.”

The front of the Paralympic medal represents “Spirit in motion,” with the image struck into the obverse surface of the Paralympic medal in an “imagined close-up section of an outstretched wing of Goddess of Victory, Nike. This image represents forward flight, power and lightness – a natural metaphor for the spirit of the Paralympic Games.”

So there.

You want more insider knowledge about those shiny prizes locked away where Sir Francis Drake and Anne Boleyn were beheaded? I’m on it.

It took 10 hours to make each one of the 4,700 medals produced for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games gold medal is made up of 92.5 percent silver and 1.34 percent gold while the remainder is copper. Each gold medal is comprised of a minimum of 6 grams of gold. The silver medal is 92.5 per cent silver and the rest is copper. The bronze medal is made of 97 percent copper, 2.5 percent zinc and the remainder is tin.

Finally, unlike Olympic medals, the outside of the Paralympic medals have text written in English and braille writing.