The 2020 Olympic medal designed by Junichi Kawanishi reflects the concept that, to win glory, athletes must fight for daily victory.
The medals that you see on the podiums this year resemble rough stones that have been polished and now sparkle, with “light” and “brilliance” being overall themes. The metal is recycled.
These medals collect & reflect countless patterns of light, to symbolize the energy of athletes and (of course) all those who support them.
The medal design is also intended to symbolize diversity and is fashioned to illustrate a world where people who contend in sports and work hard are presented with laurels. Laurels were the highest status symbol, given only to the very best athletes, in the original Pythian Games. Ancient Greeks celebrated these games every four years, in honor of the god Apollo at his sanctuary at Delphi.
The Pythian Games, which began around 600 B.C. (after the slightly older Olympic Games,) are the forerunner of all “multi-national” sports events that followed, and now serve as inspiration for our modern Olympic games.
But who is the angel depicted on the obverse of the 2020 Olympic medal?
Nike (you will be familiar with the word, though not perhaps the character) is the Greek goddess of Victory. The very ancient name of this divinity has roots in the much older Proto-Indian-European word neik, which means: attack the contest.
Nike is the daughter of aTitan (a type of pre-Olympic giant deity) named Pallas. Her mother was the prehistoric nymph-goddess known as Styx.
Nike had three sisters: Kratos (Strength), Bia (Force), and Zelus (Zeal).
Nike looks like an angel in most depictions (even though she’s not an angel, we should classify her as a “winged goddess”) — and this is how we see her featured on the reverse side of the 2020 Olympic medal.
Most “winged deities” in the Greek pantheon had shed their wings by classical times, but Nike preserved hers, perhaps because she had already assumed the role of divine charioteer of Zeus, who soared through the sky, casting lightning bolts. So Nike was thought-of as a fast-flying immortal in her own right.
We later recognise Nike as “winged victory” (from around the 2nd century B.C.) and this connection to glory on the battlefield meant she became a symbol that’s often associated with memorials, monuments and cenotaphs. Indeed, you might have seen her on headstones at the graves of warriors (even though she is obviously of pre-Christian, and therefore pagan, origin.)
The famous Queen Victoria Memorial, seen outside Buckingham Palace (shown above) makes much use of this conceptual interplay between Victory (Victoria) and Nike. Designed by Thomas Brock in 1901, Nike (raised here as Winged Victory) stands atop a marble pylon dedicated to Queen Victoria, the Empress of India. In this setting, Nike is surrounded by mermaids, mermen, and hippogriffs.
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Words: @neilmach 2021 ©
Main image: violscraper
Author Neil Mach is host of the Myth & Magic podcast. Available on all podcast services.
Myth & Magic Episode 99 – Myth and Magic