One-of-a-kind 2010 Olympic medals recognize heavyweight accomplishment

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER - Vancouver's Olympic organizing committee unveiled the gold, silver and bronze medals that will be distributed during the 2010 Winter Games and both Olympic and Paralympic athletes might be well-served to incorporate neck-strengthening exercises into their daily regimen.
The medals, displayed Thursday, are the first in Olympic and Paralympic history to be made from discarded circuit boards and electronic waste and they are among the heaviest in Games history at about half a kilogram each.
None of the 615 Olympic and 399 Paralympic medals will be exactly alike and rather than stick to a flat metal disc with engravings on front and back, British Columbia designer Corinne Hunt, along with architect Omer Arbel, made the medals wavy and undulating.
The medals are based on two artworks that reflect Hunt's First Nations Komoyue and Tlingit heritage. The Olympic medals will display an orca while the Paralympic medals will feature a raven.
"The orca or the killer whale is really a beautiful creature that is strong, it has many wonderful physical characteristics but it also is a creature that lives within a community," Hunt explained.
"I felt that the Olympics are a community and would reflect not only the strength of the athletes but the strength of the movement itself."
Each medal will have a signature element from the orca and raven artworks, such as an orca's eye or the raven's wing. The Olympic medals are circular in shape while the Paralympic medals are more square.
Hunt said she chose the raven for the Paralympic medals to honour her paraplegic uncle.
"The raven is a totem rising, it's a creature that is all things, and I think Paralympic athletes have that in them," she said.
"They're sometimes given challenges and they rise above those challenges and the raven does the same. I think it gives us hope with the creativity of the raven, to accept when things don't work out and rejoice when they do."
Daniel Wesley, a five-time Canadian Paralympian and 12-time medallist, said the medals are memories of the dedication, commitment and sacrifice each athlete pours into their performance.
"These medals that are being unveiled today set a new high standard, a new high-water mark for all the other Olympics to come to see if they can match it," Wesley said at the announcement.
The medals were designed with input from Games athletes and are being produced by the Royal Canadian Mint and resource giant Teck Resources Limited.
"It was about an 18-month to two-year process to get here today," said Dave Cobb, deputy chief executive officer of the Games' organizing committee.
"(The athletes) wanted them to be unique from any other Games. It was critical to them that they were uniquely Canadian, they wanted them to be big and heavy, and perhaps most importantly, they wanted something that they would be proud of and that would be adequately representative of what they accomplished."
A silk scarf featuring a copy of the artwork will be presented to each Olympian and Paralympian who earns a medal. The scarf will enable the athlete to see how his or her medal fits into the larger artwork.
The reverse side of the medals displays the name of the Games in English and French, as well as the Vancouver 2010 logo and the name of the sport for which the medal was issued. The Paralympic medals will also have braille type.
The Games motto, "With Glowing Hearts," will be written on the medal's blue and green ribbon.
The Mint began work on the medals this past July and the work is expected to be completed by November.
"When we were presented with the Olympic medal design by VANOC a few months ago, we knew they had something special and inspiring to say and share with the world," International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said in a statement.
Minister of State for Sport Gary Lunn said the medals capture the beauty of Canada's landscape and evoke images of the sea and mountains of Vancouver and Whistler.
"The unveiling of this medal brings the reality of Canada's Games just that much closer," Lunn said, noting the Olympics are 120 days away.
While traditionalists might take issue with the modern medal design, Sam Carter, a professor at Vancouver-based Emily Carr University of Art and Design, said the works should be applauded.
"I think that one of the things that Canada and British Columbia is involved with is branding our culture to make it desirable and understandable to cultures beyond our own and in that respect I really like the idea of the celebration of aboriginal cultures," Carter said.
"I think it's a wonderfully innovative application of bringing together the strong and very decided rules of the Olympic regime."
Carter said he's aware some might not like the new design, which has already been compared to a potato chip. Others have complained about the lack of a Canadian maple leaf on the medals.
"The maple leaf will inevitably be everywhere anyway," he said.
Jason Beck, curator of the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame, said the medal design is among the most unique he's seen.
"The one thing about the Winter Olympics design, over the general Summer Olympics design of medals if you look over the years, Summer Olympics tends to be a bit safer," he said.
"The Winter definitely varies way, way, way more. You saw it in Torino and you're seeing it again in Vancouver. I like the design."
Beck said the Vancouver medals weigh two to three times the Olympic average and designing the awards has become something of a Games event itself.
"It's only been in the last 30 or 40 years that there's been a new design for every Games and it does seem like there's a bit of gamesmanship, that we have to better the last design."
The B.C. Sports Hall of Fame has more than 1,000 medals in its collection, 57 of which are from the Olympics. Beck said he can't remember seeing a single medal that didn't rest flat against the chest.
"It's something that's never been done before and I think that's maybe a good thing," he said.
"That being said, I just hope that these designs don't keep getting wilder and wilder. We're losing sight of what these medals really are, what their purpose is. It's to honour an achievement, a performance, and stand as a symbol for the work and the journey to get there."

Organizations: Royal Canadian Mint, Teck Resources, International Olympic Committee Emily Carr University of Art and Design British Columbia Sports Hall B.C. Sports Hall

Geographic location: VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada Whistler Torino

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