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The Paris Olympics medals will have pieces of the Eiffel Tower

The Paris 2024 Olympic gold medal, center, the Paris 2024 Paralympic, gold medal, right, and silver medal, left, are presented to the press, in Paris, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.
Thibault Camus
The Paris 2024 Olympic gold medal, center, the Paris 2024 Paralympic, gold medal, right, and silver medal, left, are presented to the press, in Paris, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.

PARIS — An Olympic medal inlaid with a piece of the Eiffel Tower. How's that for a monumental prize?

A hexagonal, polished chunk of iron taken from the iconic landmark is being embedded in each gold, silver and bronze medal that will be hung around athletes' necks at the July 26-Aug. 11 Paris Games and Paralympics that follow.

Games organizers revealed their revolutionary design on Thursday.

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Simone Biles has seven medals from her two previous Olympics and LeBron James has two golds and one bronze from London, Beijing and Athens. But neither of those athletes who are targeting the Paris Games nor any of the roughly 36,600 other medalists at 29 previous Summer Olympics stretching back to 1896 ever owned one quite like these.

By making history at the Games, Paris medalists will take a bit of France and its history home, too.

Here's a deep dive into the medals that are sure to wow:

Are these really Eiffel Tower chunks?

Absolutely. The 330-meter (1,083-foot) tall tower is made of 18,038 iron parts. But it's also getting a bit long in the tooth. Built for the 1889 World's Fair — which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution — engineer Gustave Eiffel's tower was only intended to stand for 20 years.

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Instead, it just goes on and on — thanks to a bit of rejuvenating surgery from time to time and constant care. The 135-year-old tower is a veteran of two previous Games — in 1900 and 1924, the last held in Paris.

The iron pieces embedded in the center of the Olympic medals each weigh 18 grams (about two-thirds of an ounce).

They were cut from girders and other bits that were swapped out of the Eiffel Tower during renovations and stored for safekeeping, according to Joachim Roncin, head of design at the Paris Games organizing committee.

"The concept came after a few discussions. We realized that there's one symbol known across the world, which is the Eiffel Tower," Roncin said. "We said to ourselves, 'Hey, what if we approached the Eiffel Tower Operating Co. to see if it's possible to get a bit of the Eiffel Tower to integrate into the medal?'"

The company agreed, and "the dream became reality," he said. "It's really a bit of metal from the Eiffel Tower."

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How were the chunks prepared?

They were stripped of paint, polished and varnished for their second life.

They are stamped with "Paris 2024" and the Games logo — which looks like a flame or the face of a woman with a chic bob haircut. The five Olympic rings are also stamped on the iron of the Olympic medals. The Paralympic logo of three swooshes, known as the Agitos, is stamped on the medals for the Aug. 28-Sept. 8 Paralympics.

The iron pieces' hexagonal form represents France. The French sometimes refer to their country as "L'Hexagone" — the hexagon — because of its shape.

Paris jewelry house Chaumet designed the medals. Six small clasps that hold the iron pieces in the medals are a wink at the 2.5 million rivets that bind the Eiffel Tower together.

Around the iron pieces are disks of gold, silver or bronze. They're crinkled to reflect the light, making the medals shine. Games organizers say the metal is all recycled, not newly mined.

Are Paris' medals unique?

Yes. Olympic medals have tended to be quite sober. In what was a first, medals for the 2008 Beijing Olympics contained inlaid jade disks. But Paris is the only host city to include chunks of a famous monument.

"Having a gold medal is already something incredible. But we wanted to add this French touch and we thought that the Eiffel Tower would be this cherry on the top," Roncin said.

"Having a piece of it is a piece of history."

The ancient Greek goddess of victory, Nike, features on the Olympic medals' other side — as she has done at every Games since 1928. But Paris has also added a small representation of the Eiffel Tower on that side, in another break with tradition.

The other side of the Paralympic medals shows a view of the tower as if looking upward from underneath. For visually impaired people, "Paris 2024" is written in Braille and the edges have notches: one for gold, two for silver, three for bronze.

By the numbers

The Paris Mint is manufacturing 5,084 medals — about 2,600 for the Olympics and 2,400 for the Paralympics. That is likely more than will be required. Some will be stored in case that medals need to reassigned after the Games, which can happen when medal-winners are subsequently stripped of the prizes for doping. Some go to museums. Any other spares could be destroyed.

The gold medals weigh 529 grams and are not pure gold. They are made of silver and plated with 6 grams of gold.

The silvers weigh 525 grams.

The bronzes weigh 455 grams and are a copper, tin and zinc alloy.

The medals are 85 millimeters across and 9.2 millimeters thick.

They'll come in a dark-blue box from Chaumet and a certificate from the Eiffel Tower Operating Co. that the iron pieces came from the monument. Paris organizers didn't give a monetary value for the medals.

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The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]