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Jade gives Olympic medals the Chinese touch

Aug. 07, 2008, 7:35 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) It has become a tradition for every Olympics to have its own unique medals, most often celebrating the host city.

For China, that means jade.

Organizers say that for the first time, a non-metal has been incorporated into the gold, silver and bronze medals that will be awarded to athletes in Beijing. Discs of jade encircle the stylized logo of the games and the Olympic rings.

The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games said the medals "symbolize nobility and virtue and are embodiment of traditional Chinese values of ethics and honor, sending forth strong Chinese flavor."

Some 6,000 medals were made for the Olympics and the Paralympics, supplied by Olympic sponsor BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company. They were delivered earlier this month with much fanfare during a ceremony near Tiananmen Square.

Olympic medals, whether gold, silver or bronze, always include the Greek goddess Nike, the symbol of victory, on the front - which is required by the International Olympic Committee.

But the reverse has allowed host cities to get creative.

A silhouette of the Opera House was incorporated into the medals for the Sydney games in 2000, and a dove, the symbol of peace, was on the reverse of the medals for Seoul in 1988.

For Beijing, there were 265 design proposals submitted from around the world. A nine-member panel picked the winner, which came from a design team at the Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts.

"The panel was looking for something that unmistakably was associated with China, and everyone agreed jade was that symbol," Clinton Dines, a member of the panel and president of the China division of BHP Billiton, said when the medals arrived in Beijing.

The inlaid jade was donated from the Qinghai government. The gold medal is decorated with white jade, a slightly darker shade is part of the silver, and a green is used on the bronze.