Critics poke fun at wavy look of Vancouver medals

Elite winter athletes love to float, jump and twirl. They rarely undulate, but that's changing for a lucky few.

The medals for the Vancouver Games have a wavy design likened by some grumblers to microwaved Frisbees and melted 45s. This after the sleek look of the Olympic Torch prompted the nickname Olympic Toke to go with the host city's rep as the pot smoking capital of Canada.

Poking fun at the prizes has been sport since the unorthodox design was unveiled in October. "Yuck," groaned one detractor. "Fancy a Pringle chip?"

In 2006, the Torino medals were criticized for looking like giant doughnuts. "Those critics are going to hate the Vancouver medals, which look more like Salvador Dali's melting clocks than awards," said the culture blog at

Organizers in Vancouver insist the bad vibe was fleeting. Either way, the medals are busy little things - all 615 of them.

Inspired by a four-panel work depicting an orca whale, they're a joint venture between Vancouver architect and industrial designer Omer Arbel and Corrine Hunt, an artist of Komoyue and Tlingit heritage from Vancouver Island. Each medal is one of a kind, laser etched with a different piece of the master work by Hunt and struck nine times to create an undulating circle.

"Vancouver 2010 medals display traditional native 45-RPM-record-left-on-dashboard-in-sun design," tweeted Seattle Times columnist Ron Judd.

Asked to weigh in recently, Richard Burnett of Montreal's alternative weekly newspaper the Hour said: "The gold and bronze medals look like melted chocolate someone pulled out of their back pocket. The silver medal looks like it still has foil wrap on it."

But he was quick to note they're "far more pleasing to the eye than the boring, staid Olympic medals of old."

The front side of each is a piece of Hunt's work with a fine-wood grain and the Olympic Rings slightly raised. The reverse reads "XX1 Winter Games" in English and French and has a raised image of the Games' official emblem inspired by an inukshuk atop more Olympic Rings. The name of the sport and the event are included.

Arbel seemed surprised he got the gig, telling "It's still a mystery to me why our office was selected. We design buildings and furniture and chandeliers. We find interesting ways to make objects. ... This is our first medal. Probably our last."

Hunt said she chose the orca for the pods that swim in the waters off British Columbia and around the world. Arbel wanted the wave of the medals to evoke the movement of the region's oceans, drifting snow and mountain landscapes.

Red-carpet jeweler Greg Kwiat of Fred Leighton is a fan.

"They've got a post-modern feel. They'll evoke strong reactions from both sides. In design, when people can evoke a strong response, they've succeeded," he said. "The fact that he's never done a piece of jewelry unchained him from hundreds of years of jewelry design and allowed him to think from a fresh perspective."

Arbel and Hunt also created a wavy superellipse (squared circle) design for the Paralympics. There's Braille and pieces of raven art Hunt did on a three-panel, totem-style work.

Kwiat is pleased that circuit boards from recycled computers, cell phones and other electronic equipment were used for the medals during these, the greenest of Games.

The aesthetics of the medals matter little to athletes hoping to take home one - or more.

"I think they're awesome," said three-time medal holder Angela Ruggiero, a member of the U.S. women's hockey team. "One thing about the Winter Olympics is the originality of the medals. Haven't seen them in person, but I hope I get the honor!"