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Fourth-Place Medal

How the Olympic medals showcase Russian culture

Fourth-Place Medal

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The unveiled Sochi Olympic Gold Medal is displayed during an IOC executive board meeting at the SportAccord International …

Every Olympic athlete wants one. So what does the medal for the Sochi Games look like? It's pretty cool if you ask us.

Thirty-five hundred Olympians will compete for a record 1,300 medals at Sochi. The awards have been engraved with the Sochi "patchwork quilt" theme — a mosaic of national designs that highlights the cultures of the Russian Federation, according to the Sochi website.

"Gorgeous" is how Jim Greensfelder, medal expert and member of the International Society of Olympic Historians, described the medal design to Yahoo over the phone. "This one has some uniqueness to it."

The design represents the extremes of the country, incorporating mountains, ice, snow, and sea. Each Russian-made medal took about 18 hours to craft and includes both glass and metal. The winning design was chosen from a Russian team as well.

The Olympic rings decorate the front of the medal. The flip side adds the competition name in English along with the 2014 Sochi Olympics logo. On the edge of each medal, the official name is spelled out in French and English — the two official languages of the games — plus Russian. Greensfelder added that each medal will also list the specific event.

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Paralympic medals have a similar look, but the inscriptions are also in Braille.

Some Olympic medals will come with an out-of-this-world addition: On Feb. 15, competitors will be going for an especially rare reward — a meteoric memento. To mark the one-year anniversary of a meteor falling over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, the seven gold medals that day will include fragments of the space rock.

"It's part of their national heritage," Greensfelder said. "So they have to make it special."

He added a word of advice for the elite group that will receive a winning token around the neck: They can break. "The celebration takes over people," Greensfelder said, noting that some medals have been cracked or lost during past ceremonies.

"Be careful, that's all. It's something that becomes precious to you and you have to safeguard them from that point on."

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