PyeongChang gold medal
The gold medal
At 586 grams (nearly 1.3 pounds), the gold medal to be awarded at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics will be the heaviest medal ever created for an Olympic Games.

The previous heavyweight champion of Olympic medals was the Vancouver medal of 2010 that tipped the scales at 576 grams, according to this article.

But more importantly, at least to me, the simplicity of the Korean medal design is striking. There is very little to disturb the surface, much of the text blends inconspicuously in the design, including use of native Korean alphabet letters that in its entirety spell out the words “PyeongChang Winter Olympics.”

PyeongChang Olympic medals held by hands

Textured like the bark of a tree, the surface of the medal complements the actual weight to give the athlete a sense of solidity. This may be top of mind for Olympians who have heard about the flimsiness of the medals awarded at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The intent, of course, is to make the association of the medal design with Korean society, according to the Korea Herald.

“Hangeul is the foundation and the soul of Korean culture,” PyeongChang’s organizing committee said. “Hangeul is considered the seed that eventually blossoms and bears fruit, which symbolize Korean culture. The trunk is the process of that development.”

Additionally, the ribbon that will allow the medal to hang from the neck of an Olympian will be made from a traditional Korean textile called “gapsa,” and the round wooden case for the medal is said to be inspired by traditional Korean architecture.

“I tried some new techniques and went through a lot of trials and errors,” medal designer Lee Suk-woo said. “I wanted the medals to represent the hard work and dedication of the athletes. And the finished products came out a lot better than I’d expected.”

PyeongChang Olympic gold medal and case

Advertisements

cat-and-mouse-1

It’s a cat and mouse game, the chemists on the side of the cheaters, and the chemists on the side of the authorities. And like hackers in cyberspace, the well-financed black hats in the shadows will often times be one step ahead of the rule-makers and the enforcers.

But doping detection technology improves, and what was once untraceable is now visible. A considerable number of urine samples were taken on athletes, samples that were considered clean in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London. With the revelations of state-sponsored doping in Russia, sports officials decided it was time to re-test samples from previous Olympics to see whether any medal winners had gotten away with cheating. For certain Olympians, the results have been traumatic…others euphoric.

According to this New York Times article, 75 athletes have been declared cheaters as traces of the anabolic steroids Turinabol and Stanozolo. As the article explained, the “findings have resulted in a top-to-bottom rewriting of Olympic history.”

The article cited the case of American high jumper, Chaunté Lowe, who finished sixth in her competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Eight years later, when the urine samples were re-tested, two Russians and a Ukrainian who had finished ahead of Lowe in 3rd, 4th and 5th place were disqualified for doping. As a result, Lowe, who originally finished 6th, was suddenly a medalist.

As she was quoted as saying in the NYTImes article “I kept doing the math,” said Ms. Lowe, who originally finished sixth. “Wait: 6, 5, 4. … Oh my gosh — they’re right. I started crying.”

chaunte-lowe-in-2012
Chaunté Lowe in 2012

Nearly a decade later, out of her prime, Lowe should be receiving her bronze medal at the age of 32, way too late to take advantage of the “benefits” that come with a medal. For one, she may have been viewed as an athlete worth continued investment, and could have gone onto greater glory at the 2012 London Games at the age of 28. Or she could have managed her way into sponsorships in the strong afterglow upon her return from Beijing. At the very least, she could have been celebrated among her peers or in her hometown in a fleeting ego-affirming way or, who knows, in a life-changing way.

With the advancement of technology an assumption, taking samples during a given Games will continue to be key. Dr. Olivier Rabin of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was quoted in the article as saying, “Science progresses every day. Just over the past probably five years, the sensitivity of the equipment progressed by a factor of about 100. You see what was impossible to see before.”

However, the Rio Olympics demonstrated how poor planning and execution can lead to a large number of untested Olympians. In other words, years from now, WADA may not be able to catch all the cheats. Will Tokyo2020 be able to execute on the growing demands for testing?

The cat and mouse game continues….

endo_yukio_3
Japanese gymnast, Yukio Endo celebrates his gold medal victory in the parallel bars in 1964, with teammate Shuji Tsurumi, who won silver, in an era when the Japanese ruled in men’s gymnastics.

 

Officials in Japan are aiming for 16 gold medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

“Medals will encourage athletes,” Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo was quoted as saying in this November 27 Japan Times article. “It will be better to have a goal, so that the state can support (those who would be able to) offer hopes and dreams to children.”

Fifty-six years ago, on the eve of the start of the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, Kenkichi Oshima, head of the Japanese Olympic delegation, said basically the same thing, stating that Japan must win at least 15 gold medals as “an encouragement to this country’s upcoming generation.”

The Japanese team pulled in 16 gold medals in 1964, with the third highest medal haul in those games. It is common for the host country to do well in the medals race, but the Japanese team continued its success vis-a-vis other countries through the early 1980s, as you can see in this table.

Japan Medal Table.PNG

But as the number of countries rose, as did the level of competitiveness, Japan began to slip in the medal rankings between 1988 and 2000. With a renewed effort, Japan matched its 16 gold medals in Athens, and more recently in London grabbed 38 overall medals, more than it had ever done before.

Over the years, judo, gymnastics and wrestling have been Japan’s strongest competitive advantages, with assists from weightlifting and archery, but in recent years, Japan has become a power in swimming.

Is a target of 16 gold medals in 2020 reasonable for the third largest economy in the world? Rio in 2016 will give us a clue.