The eight tonnes of gold, silver and copper unearthed from mines in Mongolia and Utah, US, and now under guard at the Tower of London, is the largest ever haul used to make Olympic medals.
“The medals arrived at the tower on 2 July and we will keep them under tight security,” Tracey Sands, spokeswoman for Historic Royal Palaces, told AFP. The 4,700 Olympic and Paralympic medals will be guarded alongside Britain’s crown jewels until they are presented on the podium.
“For centuries, the Tower of London has protected some of this country’s greatest treasures so there can be no better sanctuary for the 2012 medals—the most precious possession any athlete could hope to possess,” said London mayor Boris Johnson.
The medals are certainly precious, even though gold makes up only a tiny portion of their alloy. A gold medal weighing about 410g contains only 6g of gold—1.34% of its weight—the remainder being silver compound (92.5%) and copper. The recent gold and silver booms that have seen prices double since the 2008 Games in Beijing ensure that the medals are the most expensive in Olympic history.
Prized possession: A 410g gold medal contains only 6g of the metal. By Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Added to this, the dimensions of the London medals (85mm in diameter and 7mm thick) make them the heaviest ever struck for the Summer Olympics. In Beijing, the medals were around half as heavy, at 200g.
But the London medals remain below the record set by the Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010, where the medals weighed up to 576g.
British artist David Watkins has designed the medals, which depict Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. The reverse bears the London Games logo in front of a radiating star motif, representing the spirit and tradition of the Olympics, and the river Thames, for the city of London.
To run fast while fasting
For Jordanian marathon runner Methkal Abu Drais, the timing could not be worse. Not only is he preparing for one of the races of his life, he’s doing it during Ramzan, the Muslim fasting month.
“I tried after I arrived in London to train while I was fasting, but I realized it is very, very difficult because I’m taking part in a race that needs a lot of energy,” he said. “I think I will reverse my decision to fast.”
It’s a dilemma faced by about 3,500 Muslim athletes at London 2012, which coincides with a time of year when they would normally forgo food, drink and sex between dawn and dusk.
Most Muslim countries have given their athletes special dispensation to postpone Ramzan during the Games, to help them maintain their strength, and fast when they return home.
But many competitors are still insisting on observing Ramzan, one of the most spiritual periods in the Islamic calendar when fasting is usually seen as compulsory.
Morocco’s men’s football team has pledged to fast during the Olympics despite a request from their Dutch coach Pim Verbeek.
“We must fast because this is an obligation and I think that God will help us on the day of the games,” said Morocco’s Atletico Madrid-bound goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou. “We’re used to playing in Ramzan and it won’t negatively impact us.”
In judo, United Arab Emirates’ Hamid Alderei is training only after breaking his fast, but among Niger’s six-strong team, Zakari Gourouza is the sole athlete not observing Ramzan. “The other five will fast because they’re here just to take part. They’re not likely to win any medals and fasting is a priority for us,” explained Niger rower Hamadou Djibo Issaka.
Moroccan boxing coach Abdel Haq Achic said he found it difficult to persuade his athletes not to fast despite the significant impact on their strength, energy and weight. “So we didn’t look like dictators, we gave them two or three days to try training with fasting but after that they realized they couldn’t do it, so they accepted the decision,” he said.
“Boxing is tough and as we need to train twice a day, the athletes can’t do it. They lose a lot of their energy so they must eat to have good preparation for competition. We spoke to all the athletes and we told them they need to eat to be fit for the competition.
“After 3 hours of talking with them, they decided not to fast. It was difficult for them to accept this decision because they are practising Muslims, but there’s no other solution if they want to compete for medals,” said the coach.
According to the provisions of the Quran, Muslims can be excused from fasting if they are sick or travelling, meaning athletes visiting London can postpone the ritual without guilt.
Egypt’s first-ever Olympic sailor, Ahmed Habash, has eased the problem by fasting according to sunset in his home country, meaning he can eat from 7pm. “In Egypt, sunset is 7pm and here in England it is 9pm. During the actual races I’m not going to fast,” he said. “It does mean that when I return home I’ll have to re-fast, but only for the five days I miss.”
Boyle’s biggest-ever show?
Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, is approaching the culmination of his own Olympian task: producing Friday’s opening ceremony.
“I’ve never really done anything on this scale,” the 55-year-old Briton admitted.
Boyle’s eclectic cinematic back-catalogue includes the film noir Shallow Grave, fantasy thriller 28 Days Later and Trainspotting, the story of a gang of young heroin addicts in Edinburgh. However, it is the final scene from Slumdog Millionaire, with its hundreds of dancers, which comes closest to the enormity of the Olympic opening ceremony.
No fewer than 10,000 participants, mostly volunteers, will take part in the ceremony in front of 60,000 spectators at the Olympic Stadium and an estimated global television audience of one billion. Boyle has begged those attending rehearsals to keep the show a surprise and not go beyond the snippets he has announced publicly.
The first section of the ceremony will recreate an English countryside scene. The pastoral set of meadows, peasants and real animals, including horses, cows and sheep grazing next to picnickers, has stumped commentators, drawing unflattering comparisons to the children’s TV show Teletubbies.
But recent aerial images of the set reveal the Thames river’s familiar curves winding through the bucolic scene and into a rapidly changing urban landscape. Boyle has also hired nurses from Britain’s state-run National Health Service, in order to “tell the story through real people”.
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