Greeks feel snubbed by Sydney Olympic medals
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Even before they've been awarded to a single competitor in the Sydney Olympics, the medals have become a source of controversy.
Australians of Greek heritage are outraged the medals depict a coliseum, symbolic of ancient Rome, instead of a Greek amphitheater. They claim such a move is insulting to Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics.
The Greek-language Australian newspaper O Kosmos ran a story attacking the medals last week under the headline, "The Ultimate Ignorance."
Sydney Olympic officials stressed the image on the front of the medals first appeared on medals for the 1928 Amsterdam Games and is a depiction of a generic coliseum -- not necessarily the famous one in Rome.
Sydney Olympic officials said the International Olympic Committee told them to use the image of the coliseum -- which has been included on Olympic medals every time since 1928, except for the 1992 Barcelona Games.
"The coliseum image dates back to 1928, and we were asked to uphold the tradition of portraying the image on the medals by the IOC, which we have duly done," said Ric Birch, director of ceremonies for the Sydney Games. "The medals initially contained an image of the Opera House, but the IOC preferred the design first seen in the 1928 Olympic Games."
Wojciech Pietranik, designer of the medals, said he had to change his design last year and move his depiction of the Sydney Opera House to the back of the medals.
IOC spokesman Franklin Servan-Schreiber said the design for the face of the medals was created by an Italian, Giuseppe Cassoli, who won a design contest in 1921.
"That's probably why the stadium looks more like (Rome's) Colosseum rather than the Parthenon (in Athens)," he said. "As far as we are concerned, it's not important if it's the Colosseum or the Parthenon. What's important is that it's a stadium."
The design features a stadium in the background, the number of the Olympiad, the city where the games are held, the date, a Grecian urn and Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, holding a floral wreath.
"It is important to keep the design element on that face of the medal to continue the tradition," Servan-Schriber said.
The design for the reverse side of the medal remains at the discretion of the local organizing committee.
In this case, it depicts the Opera House amid the waves of Sydney Harbor, plus the Olympic flame and the IOC's five-ring logo.
The Australian Mint and the Perth Mint produced 3,100 Olympic medals, including spares, although only 650 gold, 650 silver and 670 bronze medals will be presented to athletes. The remainder will be destroyed after the games according to strict IOC rules.