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Salt Lake City, UT, Oct. 16, 2001 (AP by Paul Foy)–When Mitt Romney unwrapped a sample of Salt Lake’s roughhewn Olympic medals, the IOC executive board was slow to give its approval.
“There was quite a hubbub,” said Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.
Looking nothing like the polished, coin-like medals of past games, Salt Lake’s medals have heft and bulk and smooth but irregular edges, like a weathered rock plucked from a mountain stream.
The medals, the heaviest for any Olympic Games at 1 1/4 pounds, can fill an athlete’s palm.
When Romney took his gold medal sample to Lausanne, Switzerland, setting off metal detectors at airports on the way, some International Olympic Committee executives grumbled that it was not perfectly round.
“We said, `No, we want something that looks like it came from the earth,”’ Romney said.
The debate over the medals raged for weeks until then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch called Romney saying, “I like it, go ahead.”
Salt Lake planned to showcase the medals, all milled from gold, silver and bronze mined in Utah, on Monday. Romney was to join Kent Murdock, president and CEO of Utah jeweler O.C. Tanner, which is making medals for 477 top Olympic athletes and hundreds more for Paralympians, tie-winners and Olympic archives.
“It’s the most unique medal I’ve ever seen,” said Cathy Priestner Allinger, SLOC’s managing director of sport and a silver-medal Canadian speed skater in 1976. “I love the free form.”
“It’s not gaudy,” said Andy Gabel, a 1994 silver medalist in speed skating.
Gabel, SLOC’s director of figure skating and short track, called Salt Lake’s medals “nice and simple.”
The Salt Lake medals are nothing if not durable. That’s something speed skater Bonnie Blair, the winner of five gold medals at three Olympic Games, could have wished for when a neighbor dropped one of her gold medals, breaking the fragile, crystal-based medallion issued in 1992.
The Salt Lake medals depict 16 sports, another difference from standard Olympic design. The Olympic rings are shown more prominently than usual, a suggestion Romney said was made by former Olympians. Tiny etched letters spell out Salt Lake’s Olympic motto, “Light the Fire Within.”
The backside of every medal shows Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
Romney likens the irregular-shaped medals _ no two shaped exactly alike _ to a piece of sculpture a half-inch thick. “This is not your standard commercial art,” he said.
It took about 20 hours of painstaking labor for O.C. Tanner, an Olympic supplier donating the minerals and handiwork, to make each medal.
Cutting machines gave shape to a silver core that was then stamped with 1,000 tons of pressure, or five times the weight of the Statute of Liberty. Each medal was hand-polished.
The gold medals come with 6 grams of gold plating. The silver medals are solid silver, and bronze is an alloy of 90 percent copper and 10 percent zinc over a silver base. Each medal comes in its own walnut case.
“Winning an Olympic medal is the dream of any athlete,” said Priestner Allinger. “It’s concrete evidence of your achievement. Five, 10 or 15 years later, you can pull it out and it has the same meaning.”