Rio mystery solved: Why don't Olympic medal winners get flowers?

The Final Five, 2016. (Associated Press)
The Final Five, 2016. (Associated Press)

Welcome to Olympic Mysteries Solved, where we answer your most pressing questions from this year’s Rio Olympic Games. Seen something you don’t understand? Drop us a line and we may solve your mystery in a future installment. Today: the medal ceremony!

Ah, the Olympic medal ceremony, a moment when the world watches as your national anthem is played, waiting to see you break down in tears. It’s a powerful time, and it’s generated a virtual truckload of email from readers, namely: Why aren’t the winners getting flowers? And what are those little things they’re holding in their hands?

The answers are related. This year’s Olympics are all about environmental sustainability, as you might have gathered by seeing an Opening Ceremony that featured an explicit pro-environment message and closed with the lighting of a sensible cauldron, not a gargantuan bonfire. The medal ceremonies follow in this line, from the design of the set to the medals themselves.

“The athletes who top the podium in Rio will receive medals made from gold that has been extracted without the use of mercury and which was produced according to strict sustainability criteria, from the initial mining all the way through to the design of the end product,” Rio officials said in a statement before the Games. Recycled material went into the medals, recycled plastic constitutes half of the ribbons that hold the medals, and the podiums will be turned into furniture after the Olympics. (In a nice touch, the medals for Paralympic winners make distinctive sounds when shaken, so vision-impaired winners can know which medal they won.)

But what about the flowers? As you can see below, flowers were a key accoutrement when winners like the United States women’s gymnastics team ascended the podium:

The Fierce Five, 2012. (Associated Press)
The Fierce Five, 2012. (Associated Press)

But with nearly 2,500 eventual Rio medal winners out there, the idea of producing hundreds of tons of single-use flowers doesn’t exactly square with ideals of environmental responsibility. Instead, each winner receives a small wooden sculpture of the Rio Olympics logo, which you can see in the hands of the Final Five at the top of the article.

One final note: this is the first year that three separate medal ceremonies take place, depending on sport. Rio organizers have divided sports into three categories: “traditional,” “popular,” and “cool,” and have devised different musical accompaniment and production for each one.

“There are so many sports in the summer Olympics and some of them are so different,” said Christy Nicolay, the Rio Games’ executive producer of sports presentations. “For example the music at gymnastics would be very different to BMX, or beach volleyball would be very different to fencing. So we wanted three different styles of ceremonies.”

There you go. Ground being broken in every direction. What’s next?

Previously solved Rio mysteries:
What are those circular marks on Michael Phelps’ back?
Why do swimmers wear two caps?
Why is Rio’s Olympic cauldron so tiny?
Why was Michael Phelps laughing during the National Anthem?

Podcast: Talking Rio crime, Olympic dining, and beach volleyball:

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.