During Olympic medal ceremonies, we're used to medalists being handed two things: their medals and a bouquet of flowers. This makes sense, since medal ceremony = medals, and flowers are a pretty standard gift. But at 2016's Rio games, there is no handing off of flowers, as athletes are receiving something entirely new this year: a colorful little sculpture. What's the sculpture given to Olympic medalists?
The sculpture is fashioned in the likeness of the Rio Olympic logo, and it's a way to commemorate the first-ever three-dimensional Olympics logo. It features two human figures whose legs and arms run seamlessly into one another. According to BuzzFeed, the sculpture is more than a trinket — it has the practical purpose of holding the medal.
There's still more to the sculpture than just paying tribute to the historic logo or giving medalists something cool on which to place their medals. The New York Times reported that flowers were determined to be too wasteful an investment. Executive producer of the victory ceremony Christy Nicolay explained to The Times concerning the traditional bouquet, "We give it to an athlete, and very often they just throw it away." The organizing committee's brand director, Beth Lula, elaborated on the sentiment regarding the sculptures' longer shelf life: "Michael Phelps can show them to his grandchildren."
The sculptures aren't the only new thing on the podium; the medals themselves have gotten a makeover. Along with featuring the Rio logo, the medals were manufactured with an eye toward environmental sustainability. Second- and third-place winners get medals made of 30 percent recycled silver and bronze, according to the Olympics' official website, while the gold medals are made almost completely of recycled raw silver. The ribbons that the medals hang on are made of 50 percent recycled polyethylene terephthalate.
Sustainability was also the reason for ditching the flowers. But The Times noted that the sculptures are constructed of resin, polyresin, and polyvinyl chloride, calling into question just how sustainable their manufacture was.
The sculpture Rio's medal winners receive is not some random doodad or whosiwhatsit. It's a model of Rio's 3D logo which can hold athletes' medals, and organizers of the ceremony hope it will not be thrown away after medalists dismount the podium. The Olympics is a detail-oriented affair for athletes and organizers alike, and no shortage of thought went into the medalists' gift.