Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Hannah. Hannah Wonders, “Why do people get trophies and medals?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Hannah!

Do you ever dream of competing in the Olympic Games? What’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you have your sights set on winning, you probably picture a gold medal hanging around your neck.

Today, the gold, silver, and bronze medals are symbols of the Olympic Games. However, that hasn’t always been so. The very first Olympic Games were held in ancient Greece way back in 776 B.C.E. If you won an event in those first games, you wouldn’t find a medal hanging around your neck. Instead, the victors received olive wreaths. They were made from branches of the wild olive trees that grew at Olympia.

When did the tradition of Olympic medals start? It began with the first modern Olympic Games. They were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece. Still, the medals given to winners of these events weren’t the gold, silver, and bronze we use today. Winners received a silver medal and an olive branch. Second place finishers received a bronze or copper medal and a laurel branch. All other participants were given a commemorative medal.

Things changed at the next Summer Games in 1900 in Paris. Instead of medals, winners received cups, trophies, or works of art. Then, in the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri, gold, silver, and bronze medals were used. They became the standard awards for first, second, and third place.

Still, it wasn’t until the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome that medals were designed to be worn around the neck. Until then, they were connected to ribbons with a pin for attaching them to an athlete’s chest.

Have you ever WONDERed about the Olympic athletes that don’t come in first, second, or third place? All contenders in the games receive participation medals and certificates. These prizes make great souvenirs, but most athletes set their sights on a gold medal.

All that glitters isn’t gold, though…at least not solid gold. Both silver and gold medals today are made of about 92.5% silver with the rest being mostly copper. Gold medals are plated with about six grams of gold. Bronze medals usually consist of a mixture of copper, tin, and zinc.

Today, the medals continue to change with each Olympic Games. Every four years, they are designed to represent the host city and modern taste. In that way, each set of Olympic medals is unique.

Will you win the gold one day? Competing in the Olympics is a major achievement on its own. People train and practice their whole lives to qualify. If you have your heart set on a medal, it’ll take a lot of hard work!

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day isn’t very colorful, but it sure is clean!