We’re about a year away from the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. Last week the organizers revealed that 100 percent of the gold, silver and bronze used to create the Olympic medals is recycled. The metal comes from used cell phones.

Which is neat, but let’s back up a little bit. Why is it that we have Olympic medals in the first place?

In ancient times, Olympic winners got olive branches cut from a sacred tree, and that was it. The real prize was fame: the glory of being a champion means people bought you meals and put up statues in your honor.

According to the book “The Games: A Global History of the Olympics” by David Goldblatt, the organizers of the first modern Olympics in 1896 decided to do as the ancients had done and give winners olive wreaths, plus silver medals.

But back then, each new host city had its own traditions. So four years later, in Paris, winners got mostly trophies, and one winner even got a cash prize!

Gold, silver and bronze medals became the standard prize for the top finishers in 1904 at the St. Louis Games, but the medal ceremonies were pretty boring. Raising the flags and playing national anthems came later. There wasn’t even a podium until 1932, and at first, medals were pinned to the champions. We wouldn’t see ribbons to place the medals around the winners’ necks until 1960.

Still, just think: parts of the devices you’ve used to check Olympic medal counts could end up as parts of those medals.

Meanwhile, eternal glory awaits the World Dainty Champion at today’s championship in Louisville, Kentucky. Dainty is an old game with German roots. You have a big wooden stick and you hit the dainty, a little wooden stick, on the ground so it flies into the air. Then you hit it again, and whoever hits it the farthest without going into foul ground gets a trophy and tremendous acclaim. Whoever hits it the least far gets a basket of lemons.

 The Games: A Global History of the Olympics by David Goldblatt (W.W. Norton & Co)

Tokyo 2020 Olympic medals made from 80,000 tons of recycled mobile phones, electronics (USA Today)

Olympic Medals (Olympic.org)

49th annual Dainty Contest set for Monday, July 29, in Schnitzelburg (Insider Louisville)

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Photo by Paul VanDerWerf via Flickr/Creative Commons