Ranking of the best summer and winter Olympic medal designs of all time


After reviewing the Summer and Winter Olympics medal designs, it’s time to take a look at the best designs produced for each event. Here is an overview of the 5 best summer and winter Olympic medal designs.

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Top 5 Summer Olympic Medal Designs:

  1. 1896, Athens, Greece

As the original Olympic medal, this medal deserves a nod because of its historical significance. The front of the medal features an image of Zeus holding the goddess Nike on the front and the Acropolis on the back. Notably, this medal does not feature the Olympic rings.

  1. 1900, Paris, France

The only Summer Olympic medal to be square instead of round featured Nike and Paris on the front, with an athlete in front of the Acropolis in the background. The creation of this medal was one of the main influences in the IOC’s decision to establish the guidelines for the shape of Olympic medals, requiring all other Summer Olympic medals to be round.

3.. 1928, Amsterdam, Netherlands

1928 Amsterdam Summer Olympics Nets Gold Medalist

Another medal of historical significance, this was the first medal to feature Trionfo’s iconic design. Created by Giuseppe Cassioli for a competition organized by the International Olympic Committee, the Trionfo design features Nike on the front of the medal as she holds a winner’s wreath and a palm leaf in front of the Colosseum. The back of Cassioloi’s design depicted a victorious athlete carried by a crowd, a design that would be retained until the 1972 Olympics.

  1. 2020, Tokyo, Japan

How much is a Tokyo 2020 Olympics medal worth?

Although recency bias may persist in this choice, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games medals are among the most distinct summer Olympic medals designed. The thickest Summer Olympic medals ever created, these medals feature Nike with the Panathenaic Stadium on the front and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic logo on the back. Ironically, the reverse side also features a design intended to depict ‘sunbeams’, a multi-symbolic feature considering the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games took place amid the coronavirus pandemic after being postponed to 2021.

  1. 2008, Beijing, China

Beijing 2008 Olympic Medals - Design, History and Photos

The 2008 Beijing Olympics medals were the only Summer Olympics medals to incorporate additional material into the medals, with the planning committee including a jade ring inside. Visible on the back of the medals, the color of jade used in each medal differed based on its color, gold medals had white jade, silver medals featured light green jade, and bronze medals featured green jade dark. For the Chinese people, jade is a symbol of honor and virtue, which makes its inclusion in medals even more important. As swimmers we may have some bias as 2008 was also the year that Michael Phelps won a historic 8 gold medals in a single Olympics.

Top 5 Winter Olympic Medal Designs:

  1. 1972, Sapporo, Japan

1972 Olympic medal. Image courtesy of the IOC

Unlike the Summer Olympic medals, the IOC did not regulate the shape of the Winter Olympic medals, resulting in the creation of square medals for the 1972 and 1984 Winter Olympics. The first of two square medals, the drawing from the 1972 Olympics included images of a snowflake, the sun, and the Olympic rings on the reverse. The front side was much simpler, showing a snow scene. Rather than being perfectly square, this medal also included the use of slightly rounded edges, a very distinctive design touch.

  1. 1992, Albertville, France

1992 Olympic medal. Image courtesy of the IOC

From 1992 to 1998, three editions of the Winter Olympics featured medals containing additional material. The 1992 medal was designed with glass, shaped to show the Olympic rings in front of a mountain range. With a slight white tint in the glass, the medal manages to capture the essence of snow, making it highly symbolic of the spirit of the Winter Olympics.

  1. 2022, Beijing, China

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Also getting the nod for creating the highest Summer Olympics medal, the city of Beijing, China is the only city to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics. For the medals, the planning committee chose to reuse the design of the 2008 medals, creating a design featuring 5 rings encircling each other, intended to represent the spirit of the Olympic Games. Each medal has also been created using 5 distinct layers of rings, bringing this design aspect back to the heart of the medal. It is also intended to look like a jade pendant, referencing the use of jade in the 2008 medals.

  1. 2014, Sochi, Russia

Olympic medals from 1896 to 2014 |  Olympic medals, Winter Olympics, Sochi

For the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, the planning committee and the IOC worked to create a distinctive design that incorporates the use of glass. Unlike most other Olympic medals, the Sochi Games medals were not solid, with a gap between the glass and the gold edge. According to the IOC, the medal’s creators included several unique aspects. Unlike most Olympic medals, the Sochi medal features the Olympic rings on the back, not the front. Additionally, it features the official title of the Games written in Russian, French and English, a motto usually written in English and the native language of the host country.

  1. 1998, Nagano, Japan

1998 Nagano Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals |  Olympics, Olympic medals, Nagano

The 1998 Olympics medal is one of only 2 Olympic medals to ever use color in its design. Using lacquer to create a glass effect, the medal features an image of the Shinshu Mountains on its reverse. According to the IOC, the imagery was created using the Japanese art form known as Maki-e, made by local artists, allowing an important form of culture to be incorporated into it. With the use of blue, orange, purple, red, green and yellow, its creators have managed to create an extremely unique design that has not been attempted with other editions of the Olympic Medal.

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