MAC: Mines and Communities

Tokyo 2020: From metals to medals

Published by MAC on 2021-08-02

No mining villains as sponsors.

The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tokyo 2020) conducted the “Tokyo 2020 Medal Project” to collect small electronic devices from all over Japan to produce the Olympic and Paralympic medals. In the two years between April 2017 and March 2019, 100 percent of the metals required to manufacture the approximately 5,000 gold, silver and bronze medals were recovered.
Before the Games, Japan government passed The Act on Promotion of Recycling Small Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment and certified 45 recycling operators nationally to sort, dismantle and send to smelters all the devices collected by municipalities.
Rio Tinto provided the 4700 gold, silver and bronze medals at the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games. Metal for the medals allegdley came from the company’s Bingham Canyon (Kennecott) mine in Utah, USA, and its Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia, where there are major concerns over air and water pollution, deadly health impacts, water scarcity and violation of indigenous rights. The company faced protests by a broad coalition of unions, social and environmental groups over its role as a key sponsor and sole provider of gold, silver and bronze for the medals.
Australian mining giant BHP Billiton was among key 2008 Beijing Olympics sponsors criticised for failing to press China to help end fighting in Darfur.
Previous MAC Olympic coverage:
2013-09-25 Britain's Olympic medals mining company in court in Utah
2012-07-24 Olympic protestors carpeted for "green wash" demo
2012-06-26 Rio Tinto's "Great Olympic Greenwash"
2012-04-24 Rio Tinto gets no Medals from its critics
2011-11-30 The hidden human cost of the 2012 Olympic medals
2008-05-05 BHP Billiton defends its Olympic role
2008-04-27 BHP among Olympics sponsors attacked

From olive wreaths to recycled metals: The evolution of Olympic medals

Made of recycled electronic devices and pebble-like in appearance, the medals in the Tokyo Games measure 8.5 centimeters in diameter.


July 14, 2021

From olive wreaths to recycled metals sourced from old cell phones and electronics, the reward for winning at the Olympics, the most sought-after achievement in an athlete's life, has come a long way, much like the Games itself.

Made of recycled electronic devices and pebble-like in appearance, the medals in the upcoming Tokyo Games will measure 8.5 centimeters in diameter, featuring the flying image of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.

But, unlike previous years, these will be produced from gold, silver and bronze (in this case, copper and zinc) that has been stripped from over 79,000 tons of used cell phones and other small electronic devices donated by the Japanese population. During the ancient Olympic Games, athletes who emerged victorious were awarded 'Kotinos' or olive wreaths, which were considered a sacred prize in Greece, representing the highest honour.

In 1896, the long-lost tradition of ancient Greece, the Olympic Games was reborn in Athens. With the rebirth, new practices made way for older ones and thus the custom of awarding medals began -- silver for the winners while the runners-up received a copper or bronze medal.

On the front of the medal was Zeus, father of the gods and in whose honour the Games were held, holding Nike, while the reverse side showed the Acropolis. It wasn't until eight years later in the 1904 St. Louis Games, where the now standard gold, silver, and bronze medals, were first used. The metals represent the first three ages in Greek mythology: the Golden Age -- when men lived among the gods, the Silver Age -- where youth lasted a hundred years, and the Bronze Age, or the age of heroes.
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