Friday, 3 April 2015




You’ve almost arrived at the finish line -- you can see it just over the horizon. Maybe the sight of the finish inspires a burst of energy and allows you to sprint to the end, or maybe you are using every last bit of effort you can muster as you drag yourself along the last few metres.

Stephen Kiprotich, winner of the 2012 London Olympic Marathon. Source: OC Register 
However you approach it, our finish line is slightly different from that of a competitive running race: here, there is no first place winner who will grab a coveted trophy or medal before everyone else. As we cross our finish line of this academic year and, for some of us, the Museum Studies degree, we all have a victory to celebrate.

In this program, everyone has exerted enormous effort and will reap his or her own value from what we’ve all experienced and learned. Interestingly, while “going for gold” is clearly the focus of the Olympic Games, we can draw parallels between recognizing the efforts of all participants in our own program and in the Games. This leads me to today’s featured object: the Olympic Participation Medal.

Obverse of 1896 Olympic Participation Medal, featuring the goddess Nike holding a laurel wreath and a phoenix emerging from flames. Source:

The Olympic Participation Medal is the lesser-known counterpart to the gold, silver, and bronze medals that generate the most buzz during the Games. However, instead of being awarded to only a select few, all athletes, functionaries, and participants from the first modern Olympics in 1896 up until the most recent Games in Sochi has received one of these medals. Far from the blanket feel-good statement that “everyone’s a winner!”, the Olympic Participation Medal notably recognizes the enormous effort that is required in order to even make it to the Olympic Games.

Helsinki 1952 Olympic Participation Medal. Source: The Olympic Design
In my opinion, it is important to acknowledge athletic accomplishment outside of those few individuals who reach the podium. Too often in sports (and arguably in other fields as well), we are concerned with a single moment of “glory” as a qualifier for the worth and accomplishments of an individual or team. Yet it can be detrimental to let a single moment define who we are, whether we excel in sport or in another realm. Instead, pursuing a goal over the course of a lifetime with passion, dedication, and perseverance is what the Olympic Participation Medal attempts to reward.

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Participation Medal. Source: The Olympic Design
While several museums collect and display Olympic Participation Medals, notably museums that specialize in sport or Olympic history such as the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, they do not become the artifacts placed on a pedestal with their own security guard. (I'm thinking of the Stanley Cup on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame -- though the extra staff member might just be there to help visitors with their photos.) Instead, these medals represent personal and individual experiences, signifying memories unique to each owner.

And so, here’s to your own achievement as you reach the end of this term or the end of your degree. Regardless of how you feel when you cross the finish line -- whether you leap across victoriously or limp along, huffing and puffing -- try to remind yourself that it is not one job interview, presentation, or publication that defines you, but rather your ongoing dedication to your passion. And just drink some Gatorade and don’t forget to stretch, and you’ll be fine!

1 comment:

  1. Well said Katherine! Thank-you for always contributing such thoughtful and inspiring posts. :)