BHP Billiton

BHP delivers Games medals

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 July, 2008, 12:00am

The price of precious metals may be going through the roof on the commodities markets, but the 6,000 Olympic medals officially handed over to Beijing yesterday will remain forever priceless to the athletes who win them next month.

Gold, silver, bronze, copper and jade have been scoured from mines around the world and then moulded and minted into the ultimate accolade to human sporting endeavour.

The nation's athletes hope to grab much more than a handful of the 2,000 gold medals, each plated with at least 6 grams of the precious metal. But for the next month at least, under tight security at a secret vault in the city, the host nation will be in possession of them all.

Organising committee executive vice-president Jiang Xiaoyu said at a ceremony in the capital: 'This is a victorious moment.'

The medals were minted in Shanghai from 13.04kg of gold dug by Australian mining giant BHP Billiton at its mine in Escondida, Chile.

The main metal in the gold medals is silver from BHP Billiton's Cannington mine in Queensland state. The silver was smelted on the mainland and then gold-plated.

'We've sweated over them,' said Dai Jin, who supervised the silver and bronze smelting at the Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group plant in Anhui province .

'Athletes will be taking a part of us, 'our fingerprints', to every corner of the world.'

Jade, which in Chinese lore represents beauty, nobility, perfection, power and immortality, has been inlaid in all the medals to symbolise and celebrate the hosts.

BHP Billiton (China) chief Clinton Dines said: 'Each [medal] underwent tests to ensure they would not break if they hit the ground should one of the 6,000 athletes drop theirs.'

A double-dragon centrepiece is engraved in jade quarried in Qinghai province . The other side is engraved with the International Olympic Committee standard design that features the goddess of victory, Nike, and an image of the Panathenaic stadium, which hosted the first modern Games in 1896 in Athens.

For the first time in Olympic history, the design was chosen from 256 entrants in a global competition open to the public.

Also, 51,000 commemorative bronze medals were made for every participant. Melbourne-based BHP, the world's biggest mining company, used 1,340kg of silver in the gold and silver medals, with the 830kg of copper for the bronze medals coming from its Spence mine in Chile.

BHP has employed as an envoy diving heroine Gao Min , who won gold in Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992. 'It is the dream of every athlete to win [a medal] at the Games,' she said. 'My Olympic medals represent the biggest honour of my lifetime and I cherish them.'