Your old iPhone never looked so good − the Tokyo 2020 medals have a brilliant backstory

Tokyo 2020 has unveiled its medals for the upcoming Olympics, and they’re made from discarded gadgets. 

The Tokyo Medal Project began in 2017 with the goal of collecting enough recycled gadgets to create the 2020 Olympics winners’ medals. The organisers have now unveiled the final products. Drum roll please…

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Tokyo 2020 Olympic medals

Image Credit: Tokyo 2020

The project needed to collect enough mobile phones and laptops to be able to extract the required amount of precious metals to create the Tokyo 2020 Olympic medals.

While we don’t have an exhaustive list of the devices that went into it, we’re rather enjoying the thought of a battered old iPhone 4 being chucked down a chute and emerging out of the other end as a beautiful bronze.

The collected materials ended up forming medals of 85mm in diameter. The gold medals use over 6g of gold-plated pure silver, the silver medals are pure silver and the bronze medals use a brass alloy made of 95% of copper and 5% of zinc.

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Tokyo 2020 Olympic medals

Image Credit: Tokyo 2020

The Tokyo 2020 website uses some enthusiastic and rather luxurious language to describe the recycled medals: 

“…rough stones that have been polished and which now shine, with ‘light’ and ‘brilliance’ their overall themes. 

“The medals collect and reflect myriad patterns of light, symbolising the energy of the athletes and those who support them; their design is intended to symbolise diversity and represent a world where people who compete in sports and work hard are honoured. 

“The brilliance of the medals’ reflections signifies the warm glow of friendship depicted by people all over the world holding hands.”

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The materials used weren’t the only aspect of the medals which got the Japanese community involved. A competition was held to decide the design of the medals – with three caveats. The medal design had to feature:

  • Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, in front of the Panathinaikos Stadium
  • The official name of the respective Games, in this case the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
  • The Olympic five rings symbol

The competition was open to professional designers and design students – gaining more than 400 entries. The competition’s winning designer was Junichi Kawanishi.

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