NEW YORK -- The Temple of Dendur, an ancient Egyptian structure nestled in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, was the glittering and exotic setting for Tuesday evening’s unveiling of the gold, silver and bronze medals to be awarded to athletes at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 in February.
“Six decades ago, the first major exhibition of Korean art (held abroad), called Masterpieces of Korean Art, was held at the Metropolitan Museum, and it opened up a new connection between Korea and the world,” Kang Kyung-wha, South Korea’s minister of foreign affairs, told the several hundred in attendance. “This celebration of the Olympics, happening in the same place, opens up a new connection from Korea, to the world.”
The boldly textured medals, created industrial designer by Lee Suk-woo, were inspired by the surface of tree trunks, since “tree” symbolizes the work so many Koreans put into planning the Games. One side features the Olympic rings; the other, symbols of athletes and Korean culture. The medals’ edges read, “PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.”
“We wanted the medals to be symbols of Korea and all the wonderful memories the athletes will take home from their time here,” Lee Hee-beom, president of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee, said. “They are a wonderful compilation of our culture, transitions and the Olympic values.”
Each medal is 92.5 millimeters wide, 109 millimeters long and between 4.4 millimeters and 9.42 millimeters thick. The gold medal weighs 586 grams, the silver 580 grams and the bronze 493 grams. Gold and silver medals comprise 99.9 percent silver, with the gold medals plated with 6 grams of gold. The bronze medals are made of red brass.
“It really seems like the Olympic medals are getting bigger,” Sarah Hughes, the 2002 Olympic figure skating champion for Team USA, said.
She’s right: medals from her 2002 Salt Lake City Games weighed between 454 grams and 567 grams. PyeongChang’s gold and silver medals are heavier than those from the 2014 Sochi Games, although the bronze medal is lighter.
The PyeongChang lanyards also embody Korean culture, depicting subtle snowflake patterns embroidered on Gapsa, a type of cloth used to make traditional Korea costumes. The medal cases feature curves reminiscent of traditional Korean architecture.
The unveiling ceremony, simultaneously with one in Seoul, showcased a Korean dance troupe, opera singer Sumi Jo and other artists. Both the festivities and the medals drew high praise from Olympians in attendance.
“Every medal for every Games is beautiful and symbiotic with the nation that is hosting those Games, so it’s always exciting to see what the host committee will unveil,” Sasha Cohen said. “I like that they are unique and have their own character.”
Of course, Cohen’s favorite design is still that of the 2006 Torino Games, where she won a figure skating silver medal.
“I think (2006) was the only medal with a hole in the middle,” Cohen said. “It certainly was very avant-garde, very Italian design.”
U.S. Olympic ice hockey goalie Mike Richter, who joined the U.S. women’s hockey team coaching staff in March, briefly addressed the crowd.
“The Olympics and Paralympics mean so much to so many, on and off of the (playing) field,” Richter, who played in three Olympics (1988, 1998 and 2002), said. “Events like this bring out the best in all of us, there’s no doubt about it, and the Games will do the same in February.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and First Lady Kim Jung-sook joined the celebration. The president, who is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday morning, addressed security concerns raised by the tense current political situation with North Korea.
“There is no need to worry about safety during the Olympics,” he said. “I suppose no one here has ever head of people in Korea gripped with fear about their safety due to threats such as terrorism. Indeed, Korea is one of the safest countries in the world.”
The president added that his country had a successful track record hosting large-scale international events, including the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
“The PyeongChang Winter Olympics will be exemplary in all respects, including its safety and management,” he said.
Anita DeFrantz, a 1976 Olympic rowing bronze medalist and member of the International Olympic Committee, also sounded confident notes about safety and security at the upcoming Games.
“All countries are working together to make certain the Games are secure,” she said. “There were mistakes made in 1972 (at the Munich Games), but since then, the Olympics are the safest place in the world to be.”
DeFrantz was optimistic that athletes from North Korea would take part in the Games. Figure skating pair Tae Ok Ryom and Ju Sik Kim will try to qualify an Olympic spot at Nebelhorn Trophy next week in Oberstdorf, Germany, and many figure skating experts think they have a good chance. In addition, North Korean cross-country skiers, and a short-track speedskater, may attempt to qualify.
“I think its important athletes from every country participate,” DeFrantz said. “The Olympic movement worked hard for that ... Both Koreas (participated) in Atlanta (in 1996). In Sydney (2000), they marched in together. Why not? We’re doing everything we can to ensure there are no barriers.”