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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Gold, silver and … iron? Olympic medals will have piece of Eiffel Tower.

Champs de Mars, the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on May 17, 2023. Each of the 5,084 medals created for the Paris Olympics will be decorated on one side with a hexagon-shaped piece of iron recovered from the French capital’s iconic landmark. (Joann Pai/The New York Times)

By Aurelien Breeden

Athletes who win medals at the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Paris won’t win just gold, silver or bronze. Their medals will also include a piece of iron — wrought-iron, to be exact, from the Eiffel Tower.

Organizers of the Games said late last week that each of the 5,084 medals created for the Paris events will be decorated on one side with a hexagon-shaped piece of iron recovered from the French capital’s iconic landmark.

“This exceptional object had to meet another very strong symbol of our country and our capital,” Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris 2024 organizing committee, said Thursday at an event to unveil the medals’ design in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris where several Olympic events will be held.

Estanguet said the iron used in the medals will be recycled fragments from the Eiffel Tower’s original 1889 construction that had been sitting unused in a warehouse after renovation work.

Stripped of their brown paint and polished, each fragment will weigh 18 grams, or just more than a half-ounce, and be fashioned into a hexagon — the shape of France.

The hexagons, stamped with “Paris 2024” and the logo of the Games, will be set into the medal with claws shaped like the Eiffel Tower’s rivets, using a technique similar to that employed to affix precious gemstones in jewelry. Ridges of radiating lines that are designed to reflect light, a nod to Paris’ nickname as the City of Light, surround the hexagons.

“We wanted this medal to be beautiful, we wanted it to be symbolic, and what is more symbolic than bringing back home a piece of France’s heritage,” Martin Fourcade, a five-time Olympic champion and president of the Paris 2024 Athletes’ Commission, said at the presentation.

“It makes me proud to be French,” said Béatrice Hess, a French former swimmer with 20 Paralympic titles. “It’s a jewel.”

The designs on the other side of the Olympic medals — which are made of recycled metal and must follow precise specifications imposed by the International Olympic Committee — will vary. They will include traditional symbols of the Games, including Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, as well as the Athens Acropolis — along with an engraving of the Eiffel Tower.

The medals for the Paralympic Games will be different, with a low-angle view from beneath the Eiffel Tower, and the words “Paris” and “2024” written in Braille — the written system for visually impaired people that is named after the Frenchman Louis Braille. Those medals will also have notches on the edges: one for gold, two for silver, and three for bronze.

Olympic organizers have long had the option of nodding to their nations’ culture in their medal designs; at the Beijing 2008 Games, medals were inlaid with a jade disk. However, the announcement from the organizers of the Paris Games appeared to be the first time a city has used fragments of an actual monument.

The medals are being manufactured by the Monnaie de Paris — the official Paris Mint — and were designed by Chaumet, a 244-year-old Paris jewelry company owned by LVMH, the French luxury conglomerate belonging to Bernard Arnault. LVMH is one of the Games’ biggest sponsors, providing more than $150 million in funding.

Antoine Arnault, one of Arnault’s children and head of communications and image for LVMH, said at the presentation Thursday that “it was a real challenge to work with a piece of the Iron Lady.”

“This is not just a medal that we are presenting today,” he added. “It’s a work of art.”

The Eiffel Tower is perhaps France’s most widely recognized monument, with about 7 million visitors per year. Several events at the Paris Games will be held in a temporary stadium set up on the Champs de Mars, the park that leads up to the tower.

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