The design of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic medals reflects the concept that in order to achieve glory, athletes have to strive for victory on a daily basis. The medals resemble rough stones that have been polished and which now shine, with “light” and “brilliance” their overall themes. The medals collect and reflect myriad patterns of light, symbolising the energy of the athletes and those who support them; their design is intended to symbolise diversity and represent a world where people who compete in sports and work hard are honoured. The front of the Olympic medal shows the traditional design featuring the goddess of victory, but since Munich 1972 the host nation have designed the reverse of the medal.

In order to come up with a range of designs from which to choose, Tokyo 2020 held a competition open to professional designers and design students which attracted more than four hundred entries. However, it was Junichi Kawanishi, Director of the Japan Sign Design Association and the Osaka Design Society, who came out on top. “It is a great honour that my design was selected for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic medal,” Kawanishi said. “I never dreamed that the design I submitted only as a memorial to this lifetime event would actually be selected. With their shining rings, I hope the medals will be seen as paying tribute to the athletes’ efforts, reflecting their glory, and symbolising friendship.”

As well as the medals themselves, the medal cases and ribbons were also unveiled earlier this month, each paying tribute to the ancient traditions of Japanese craftsmanship and the Olympic values. Each case is manufactured from Japanese ash dyed the same colour as the Olympic emblem and, remarkably, every single one will have its own wood fibre pattern subtly infused into the design, representing each individual Olympian who steps onto the field of play. 

Beyond ensuring a stunning design and tribute to Olympic history, the committee have also been focused on making sure these are the most environmentally friendly and sustainable Games so far. Their focus on sustainability saw the committee launch the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project - a landmark recycling initiative which ensured that each medal be moulded entirely from metal extracted from recycled consumer electronics. Signature yellow donation boxes were placed in post offices and on street corners all over the country, and the public were able to donate their used phones at 2,400 stores nationwide.

"I never dreamed that the design I submitted only as a memorial to this lifetime event would actually be selected."

With more than 90 per cent of Japan’s local authorities participating, a total of 78,985 tons of discarded devices were collected, a haul which included approximately 6.21 million used mobile phones, along with digital cameras, handheld games and laptops, all of which were then classified, dismantled and melted down by highly trained contractors. As a result, the final goals of 30.3kg of gold, 4,100kg of silver and 2,700kg of bronze were reached by the time the collection cycle closed on 31 March 2019. The video below offers a closer look at the entire process. 

Of course, the concept of making the medals from recycled metal is not entirely unique to Tokyo 2020, having previously been trialled at Rio 2016 where an estimated thirty per cent of the silver and bronze medals originated from recycled materials. However, the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project has certainly been unique in its scale, marking the first time that a country’s citizens have been proactively involved in donating the electronic devices used to make the medals. It is believed that the uniforms for the upcoming Olympic Torch Relay will also be produced in part using recycled plastic bottles. Even the victory ceremony podiums next summer will have been made from recycled household and marine plastic waste, with the Japanese public contributing around 45 tonnes of household plastic in order to create the 100 podiums for the Games.

So, with the stunning designs of their medals and ribbons now unveiled, our excitement for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 has skyrocketed. We cannot wait to see these beautiful creations hang round the necks of hundreds of Olympic champions as a mark of their hard work. What do you think of the designs of the medals? Let us know in the comments below! 

Written by

Dawn Broadbent