Receiving an Olympic medal is an acknowledgement of outstanding performance at the highest level of athletic competition. First-, second- and third-place contestants are recognized with medals to signify their accomplishments above their competitors. For an athlete, being presented with one of the three types of Olympic medals is the highest possible honor.
The gold medal is presented to the first-place contestant in an Olympic event, representing utmost athletic achievement. Despite its name and outer appearance, the gold medal is actually comprised of a minimum of 92.5 percent silver. Its exterior, on the other hand, is required to be gilded with gold -- a minimum of 6 grams. These medals were once made of pure gold, but this practice was discontinued after the 1912 Olympics. This medal is required to measure at least 60 mm (2.36 inches) in diameter, as are the silver and bronze medals.
The silver medal's design, just like the gold and bronze medals' designs, changes with every occurrence of the Olympic Games. The design is the responsibility of the organizing committee of the host city. The silver medal is awarded to whoever earns second place in an Olympic event. Similar to the gold medal, but true to its own name, the silver must be made up of at least 92.5 percent silver. No gilding is required.
The bronze medal is the prize awarded for third-place achievement in an Olympic event. Three millimeters of thickness are mandated for the medal; the same is true for the gold and bronze. The bronze medal is deserving of its name as it is truly made of bronze. In 1896 at the first modern Olympic Games, the bronze medal was originally used for second-place achievement while the silver medals were given to the winners.
It was not until 1904 -- the third Modern Olympic Games -- that the current three types of medals were used to acknowledge these athletic achievements. The 1900 Paris Olympics awarded winners with paintings rather than medals, believing them to be more valuable. In Ancient Greece, whence the modern Olympics are derived, several methods were historically used to signify excellence in events including olive wreaths placed on the head, ribbons tied around the head of the winner and bestowal of palm branches.