A Simple Souvenir: The Wienecke Commemoration Medal and Olympic Victory Celebration

Article excerpt

This essay explores the genesis of the most omnipresent ritual celebrated at the Olympic Games, the victory awards ceremony. Embedded therein is an investigation of the human inspirations and timely events from which the evolution of the victory podium occurred, as well as the transformation that removed victory medal presentation from the traditional province of Kings, Queens, and other royal figures (1896--1928), to the authority of International Olympic Committee members and officials of International Sports Federations. Accordingly, an examination is undertaken of the roles played by Count Henri de Baillet-Latour, President of the International Olympic Committee; Melville Marks "Bobby" Robinson, Chairman of the Committee of Management for the First British Empire Games; Johann Wienecke, medallic artist of the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games commemoration medal; and finally, the Olympic victory medals struck for the Games of 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920.

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When the Games of the XXIXth Olympiad are celebrated in Beijing in August 2008, they will, of course, feature multiple ceremonial occasions, the most omnipresent of which are certain to be Olympic victory ceremonies. At Chinese venues playing host to each of the official Olympic sports and their sub-disciplines, a victory medal ceremony will be performed following the conclusion of the event. Flags will be raised, a national anthem played, and the gold, silver, and bronze medals presented to the winning athletes, each of whom will stand on what the world now knows as the victory podium. Beyond the actual victory ceremony on the podium, so intrusive has the distinctive structure become in modern sport in general, that the word, especially its verb form, to podium, is now a cliche hope enunciated by athletes at all levels of competition the world over. As well, literally thousands of the world's media employ the word to describe the chances of particular athletes in their sports disciplines.

Each Olympic Games host, Winter and Summer, produces its own stylized version of the Olympic podium. Some are round, some square; others are rectangular in design, even octagonal. Each host's victory podium reflects a design and color character conceptualized by its respective Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (OCOG). In Los Angeles in 1984, for instance, the victory podium featured a simple square-block design produced in the OCOG's official pastel colors that bathed every Olympic venue across the greater Los Angeles area. For the Winter Games in Lillehammer in 1994, the victory podium was made of ice. In Sydney in 2000, the podium was composed of three individual circular platforms produced in gold, silver, and bronze. Despite the license granted to OCOGs for such individual creativity, specific IOC instructions on particular victory ceremony matters must be obeyed. As dictated by the Olympic Charter:

   The medals shall be presented during the Olympic Games by the
   President of the IOC (or a member selected by him), accompanied by
   the President of the IF concerned (or his deputy), if possible
   immediately after the event at the place where the competition was
   held and in the following manner: the competitors who are first,
   second and third, wearing their official or sports dress, take
   their places on a podium facing the official stand, with the winner
   slightly higher than the second- placed who is on his right, and
   the third-placed who is on his left. Their names, as well as those
   of the other diploma-winners are announced. The flag of the
   winner's delegation shall be hosted on the central flagpole, and
   those of the second and third on adjoining flagpoles to the right
   and the left of the central flagpole, looking toward the arena.
   Whilst the (abbreviated) anthem of the winner's delegation is
   played, the medal-winners shall face the flags. (1)

Behind those simple instructions lies a long and complex origin and evolution tale detailing a great transformation in how Olympic athletes are honored for their achievements. …