The official medals for the 2010 Winter Olympics were unveiled Thursday morning in Vancouver, featuring original West Coast aboriginal designs of an orca and a raven.

In an Olympic first, each medal will be unique, featuring part of an image cropped from two large master artworks by Corrine Hunt, a Canadian designer and artist of Komoyue and Tlingit heritage based in Vancouver, B.C.

For example, each medal will include its own signature elements of the orca and raven artwork, such as the suggestion of the orca's eye, the curve of its dorsal fin or the contours of the raven's wing, said officials.

A silk scarf printed with the master artwork will be presented to each Olympian or Paralympian with the medal, enabling them to see how their medal connects with those awarded to other athletes at the Games.

Guided by tradition

Hunt said she drew on the meaning of the creatures in native traditions to guide the designs.

"The orca is a beautiful creature that is strong but also lives within a community. I felt the Olympic Games are a community, too, " said Hunt.

"The athletes may be training but they're always somehow connected to their community, to their teammates, or to their country. The orca is a creature that has wonderful capabilities but can't really survive without its pod," she said.

"My design for the Paralympic medal — a raven on a totem rising — is close to my heart and in honour of my uncle who is a paraplegic. The raven is a creature that is all things and I think Paralympic athletes have that in them," she said. 

"They're sometimes given challenges and they rise above them and the raven does the same. I think the creativity of the raven gives us hope — to accept when things don't work out and really rejoice when they do," said Hunt.

Undulating surfaces

Also for the first time, the medals are not flat. Instead, they have an undulating surface intended to represent the West Coast landscape of mountains and waves and drifting snow.

Canadian industrial designer and architect Omer Arbel, also of Vancouver, created the innovative undulating design of the medals, which were struck nine times each to achieve the distinctive look as part of a 30-step medal fabrication process.

The Olympic medals are circular in shape, while the Paralympic medals are a superellipse, or squared circle, drawn from traditional West Coast native designs. At more than 500 grams each, the medals are amongst the heaviest in Olympic and Paralympic history.

"I've always thought of the Olympic Games as a catalyst for great contemporary design. It's exciting to have arrived at a piece of work that challenges people's expectations of what a medal can be," said Arbel.

Collaborative design

The medals by the numbers:

  • –20 C was the temperature used to test them.
  • 2 designers created them.
  • 2.05 kg of Teck's gold were used to make them.
  • 6 g of gold plating were used for each gold medal.
  • 6.8 metric tonnes of scrap circuit board was diverted from landfills to make them.
  • 9 times each medal was struck to shape it into the undulating form.
  • 30 steps were used by the Royal Canadian Mint to make them.
  • 34 mint engineers, engravers, die technicians, machinists and production experts manufactured them.
  • 48 medal design ideas were submitted by artists across Canada and internationally.
  • 90 kg is the weight the ribbons can withstand.
  • 95 mm is the width of the Paralympic medals.
  • 399 Paralympic medals were produced.
  • 615 Olympic medals were produced.
  •  903 kg of copper were provided by Teck for the bronze medals.
  • 1,014 different crops of the two master aboriginal artworks were laser etched into each one-of-a-kind medal.
  • 1,950 kg of silver was used for the silver medals.
  • 2,817 hours of precision manufacturing was needed to produce them.

The Organizing Committee asked Hunt and Arbel to join their creative talents together on the medals project after they submitted separate design proposals that both contained compelling elements.

"For me, it was really important that in some way every medal would be completely unique from every other medal; and yet be connected to each other and to Corrine's larger artworks in some profound manner. It's a beautiful idea because it means on a conceptual level you need all the medals together to complete the artworks," said Arbel.

On the reverse side, the medals contain the official names of the Games in English and French, the official languages of Canada and the Olympic Movement, as well as Vancouver 2010's emblems and the name of the sport and the event the medal was awarded in.

On the Paralympic medals, Braille is also used and the Games motto, "With Glowing Hearts/Des plus brillants exploits," is written in white lettering on the medal's blue and green ribbon.

Vancouver-based mining company Teck Resources supplied the metals used in the production of the Olympic and Paralympic medals from their operations in Canada, including British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Alaska, Chile and Peru.

The Royal Canadian Mint, which also manufactured the medals for the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games, will produce 615 Olympic and 399 Paralympic medals at their headquarters in Ottawa.

"These medals are the pinnacle of metal fabrication and craftsmanship and worthy tributes to the athletes who will triumph here mere months from now," said Ian E. Bennett, president and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint.